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The Life Cinematic with Wes Anderson

‘The Nobel Prize is a hell of a prize to win. You can’t knock him for winning that one,’ quips Jason Schwartzman from behind his grey fleece jacket, brown-rimmed glasses and bulky red, grey and black scarf.

‘There’s a nice correlation between [Jimmy] Carter and [Al] Gore. They seem like … They are politicians, but there’s a purity to those guys, on some level anyway, with some of their efforts. Compare the works done by former presidents and Carter has accomplished more, in that period than anybody,’ Wes Anderson continues, seemingly in jest.

Anderson shifts in his chair, preparing for the next question. In his grey tweed jacket and blue sweater, with a yellow collar poking out the top, Anderson sits with Schwartzman to his right and Waris Ahluwalia, the silent collaborator wearing all black, to his left. It’s a scene looks like it came out of Anderson’s films — the eccentric trio symmetrically sitting as critics fire question after question from across the table.

Yet, that visual recognition is what could swallow Anderson’s career. As an American auteur, Anderson has been accused of repeating himself and floundering in his sophomoric slump. Rushmore was a quirky comedy that wore its heart on its sleeve, while The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic buckled under the pressure of an all-star ensemble cast. By trimming that fat (excessive characters and their quirks), Anderson pares down The Darjeeling Limited to regain his cinematic stride.

‘For me, I know that when we [Anderson, Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola] started working on the script, I said, ‘There are no parents in this movie, no references to parents and nothing to do with parents.’ Because I just worry about repeating myself,’ Anderson explains. ‘Then, the death of the father became a huge part of the story and then they go see the mother. It was a choice not to do that.

‘I feel like that’s part of my approach to my work, and I follow a certain train of thought. I’d rather do what I think I need to do, what is in the moment I think is right. If that means that my movies are kind of linked together, well that’s alright with me. I wouldn’t be stunned if some of those things come around again.’

‘If they are on a DVD shelf together, they are like a little collection,’ Schwartzman says. ‘But ironically, if you just really tried to have no parents, you made a movie about orphans. That’s even more about parents.’

The repetition dilemma isn’t in Anderson’s aesthetics — he now owns the quick pans of Kubrick and slow-mo end caps. The problem is that his themes run the risk of turning stale, if he doesn’t keep them evolving. While the whimsical nature of Rushmore and Tenenbaums is fun, by the time The Life Aquatic rolls around, the absent/failing father horse is dead. But The Darjeeling Limited freshens things up by having the characters deal with the death of their father and the reality that they will be fathers eventually themselves.

‘It’s a very personal movie. We all wanted it to be personal. I’ve never worked on a movie where that was so much the point,’ says Anderson. ‘As we were writing it, we often made the choice that there’s some information we know about these characters that we’re not going to share with the audience. We’re going to omit lots of things, in hopes that it will be spare and it would be strengthened. There’s a certain point in the story where we go back a year earlier and things get revealed and we build toward that. It was very much a process to make everything very focused.’

It’s apparent that he’s working through his own issues and fears in his films. Fears we all have but rarely voice. Anderson, on the other hand, explores them through his characters, like when Peter says he doesn’t want to be a father because he knows he’ll get divorced, despite the fact that he loves his wife more than anything or Francis’ need to reconnect with his estranged mother.

Yet, his work is beginning to reflect the family exploration of Yasurjiro Ozu, who made countless films about Japanese families, all with the same aesthetic, and they all have a completely different feel, rather than the whimsical experimentation of the French New Wave. In fact, Anderson is even moving that direction in his aesthetics — instead of an over-the-shoulder shot for conversations, Anderson uses a one shot of the character talking directly to the camera, putting the audience in the middle of the conversation.

It’s the personal closeness that Anderson has with the themes of The Darjeeling Limited that keeps the work honest and poignant. ‘When we were writing this movie, it always seemed that these three brothers were real. The trip they were on seemed real, their adventure seemed real and their tragedy seemed real and it seemed like we were trying to uncover it or describe something that already happened. It didn’t seem like we were inventing characters or making funny guys. These were people who were going through something profound and needed it,’ Schwarzman says nearly echoing a line from the film when Francis say ‘I think we have a chance to make this a kind of life changing experience, and I think we need it.’

‘They are all combinations of people we’ve known, been, wish we’d been,’ Anderson adds.

Growth is the name of the Anderson game, both spiritually in Darjeeling and directorially. As long as Anderson keeps looking inward, his films will continue to develop into honest films with a dash of quirkiness. Perhaps working out of his comfort zone and directing a film that he didn’t write (or working from source material like in a The Fantastic Mr. Fox adaptation) would continue to push Anderson to strengthen his cinematic voice.

See also our 1996 interview with Anderson!

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