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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

I listened to this soundtrack for hours on end and it is singlehandedly responsible for my love of The Kinks. I had the short film, "Hotel Chevalier," downloaded on my iPod Touch and I felt like I would never be more sophisticated. (That ended up being true. It's all been downhill for my sophistication since 2007.) I realized partway through this viewing that I have not watched this film since I saw it in theaters. (With the exception of watching the "Play With Fire" sequence a lot on YouTube.)

I acutely remember wanting to like the movie more because it's so beautiful. I just couldn't relate to the characters. Now, 15 years later, I understand that you’re not meant to. Or maybe, I will never relate to them fully, and that’s okay.

Of course there are universal things that the movie says about family and grief but those things don’t speak to me. Or don’t, presently. This time around, I found myself amused by the varying approaches to healing. Being in therapy and very much having become one of those at-times-insipid humans who is very happy to talk about her Healing Journey (tm), I saw a lot of my early journey in Francis. The notion that you can schedule yourself to wholeness. That your incredibly prescribed sense of what needs to happen has nothing to do with what will happen. All of Francis’ itineraries and rituals were a huge part of my early therapy. The very easy trap to slip into that everything around you has meaning. Or that every little hummingbird flap in the world has something to do with You and is the Universe’s way of telling you Something. (I still fall into this trap but mostly I try to use those moments to stay present and if anything, understand how small I am that I seem to fit so easily in every Universal theme. Or how big the Universe is. The lens depends on the day and what is the smack upside the head I most need.) I know it’s very easy to hate these characters but mostly I just thought “oh, honey… no” and thought about the much harder-to-define, difficult work ahead of them.

There is also a lot lot lot of messiness. I’m not sure what thread to start with in unraveling but I’ve got to tackle it. The exoticism of this movie is a problem. I think it portrays India beautifully (cannot/will not speak to accuracy as I’ve never been) but it cannot be overlooked that a whole mess of Indians, most of whom have no dialogue, exist solely as a backdrop for three Horrible white guys. They, happily, get their just rewards, but the people around them do not. The village with the dead child is a remarkable little arc but it feels so icky that it’s mostly a vehicle for change for Peter.

There is also the regrettable personal politics of Wes Anderson and Adrien Brody and the people/actions they would defend. (It might be more, honestly, I’m afraid to google it.) They are artists whose work I adore but it is getting increasingly difficult to ignore the company people keep. I also cringed hard seeing Scott Rudin’s name in the credits.

I think the thing I love most about this movie, though, is Anderson’s incredible exploration of the dichotomy of movement and stillness. Never has his camera movement been better used. And a train is the perfect setting for it. So many moments where no one is moving, but of course, they are actually racing through the countryside. The beautiful shot of the brothers waiting in the village for their bus as the family moves about them, preparing for the funeral. And of course, the Play With Fire sequence which starts with Anjelica Huston saying, “Maybe we could express ourselves more fully if we say it without words. Should we try that?” And as they sit in stillness with each other, moving their relationships forward, the camera strolls through time and space, allowing us to watch others on their journeys of stillness and motion.

I want to go through and make a list of all of the lines that verge on profound but they’re delivered in that fantastic, artificial Wes Anderson way that undercuts the moment and almost makes it mean more. Almost.

"A Spiritual Journey"



-So I don't have as strong an interior grasp on what peacock feathers look like as I thought I did. "I don't need a reference image!" And I know better. I say this to students all the time. Have a reference. Print it out. Look at it often. No shame in that. WELP. (It's fine, truly. The proportions of color are a little wonky but I was most concerned about rendering the faces and they turned out great! So it's a win!)

-The original concept (shockingly clear early in the viewing) featured more of the detritus of their journey. The stuff that they use to build walls around them and between them. But even in all that clarity I wasn't sure how to incorporate them fully and I think that's where the piece stumbles a bit.

-I've been working on faces in my daily sketches and I'm so pleased that with this piece, I'm sure that work is paying off.

-Not much more to say! It worked, better than I hoped but not quite what I'd imagined. Still, I'm moving forward.

This next week I'm in tech but this project is too important for my mental and emotional health so I'm going to keep at it. And the next movie to see me through is The Chronicles of Riddick (for some reason I don't own Pitch Black??). I barely remember it except that it's a little silly but the world building and design are sublime. I cannot wait to reconnect with it.

Have a terrific week. Be honest with yourself. Do some healing. Get rid of some of that crap. You do not need a cobra.

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