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The Life Quixotic

Director Wes Anderson Makes Another Intensely Personal Idiosyncratic Movie

RAILROADED: Wes Anderson directs yet more whimsical quirk.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 10/10/2007

It's hard to take seriously a man wearing blue-and white-striped slacks, a brown dress shirt, and a green blazer, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that Wes Anderson, the writer-director behind wildly eccentric cinematic fare like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, should view such a hideous ensemble as apropos for a press day to discuss his latest wildly eccentric movie, The Darjeeling Limited. It is 4:35 p.m. at the Beverly Hills Four Season and Anderson is doing his best to stay interested in the questions even though he just complained to his publicist that he's got things to do and "this," meaning these interviews, were supposed to be over at 4.

Darjeeling is Anderson's fifth feature, the tale of three estranged brothers who reunite a year after their father's death on a spiritual quest through India. At the moment, it's probably best known as the movie Owen Wilson's suicide attempt almost sank, but the truth is that the director's tenuous interest in traditional narratives and increasingly impressionistic visual style are probably most to blame for broader audiences slowly shying away from his work. After building a devoted fan base around his first three movies--Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums, which made more than twice its budget--Anderson grew even more experimental with the critically rebuffed The Life Aquatic. The episodic take on a modern Jacques Cousteau was like a Truffaut hallucination and eventually managed to only make back half of its budget.

The Life Aquatic's failure to perform and connect with audiences probably explains why Anderson opted to follow it up with a very small, personal movie with three key roles rather than an ensemble, the brothers played by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman--who also co-wrote the film along with his cousin, Roman Coppola.

"Honestly, I'm not making movies where I think, `Let me see how weird this can be,'" Anderson defends himself. "With [Darjeeling] our credo was, How personal can we make it? How much of our own experience can we get into it? Because maybe the end result will be good for us. Instead of being people trying to make a movie, maybe we'll have an experience like the character Jason plays in it and then move to the next chapter in our lives. We wanted something like that to happen to us."

Anderson acknowledges that this quest for the personal has probably led to him being misunderstood by a great number of his detractors, like a journalist for Slate who attacked his propensity for telling stories about privileged white existences in an on-line editorial. When asked if he's stopped to consider if the journalist might have a point, Anderson rises and hurries to the door. "That must be my room service," he says, laughing. "That's a great answer to that, right?"

When his mid-afternoon snack of cheese and fresh tomatoes has been wheeled in, he plops back down on the couch and explains, "It's my desire, that's what I want to write about," he says of that inherent whiteness in his work. "I want to make personal stories and the movies I make tend to have main characters connected to my own experience or people around me. When I make a movie about India, I make it from the point of view of a foreigner."

In this case, three foreigners, who crafted a script together over two years that, in the end, was stripped of anything that would help explain the journey in order to make it more streamlined. This doesn't contradict Anderson's assertion that he doesn't intentionally try to make weird movies, but it does confirm that he has about as much interest as some of his French New Wave heroes like Truffaut in having his work easily understood. Anderson says things such as, "I think [my movies] need time" and "I don't worry about if people are going to like [my movies] until [they're released]. We're just working on our story, and trying to make it as original and as good in our mind as we can."

Darjeeling is ultimately Anderson's most personal movie to date, intentionally so, and he doesn't appear to expect anyone to react any differently than in the past either. He acknowledges he's one of those directors who will always receive mixed reviews and agrees jokingly that, yeah, it's accurate to say that half his audience is willing to take a bullet for him while the other half wants to put the bullet in him.

"When somebody writes something negative about me or my movies, I always take it personally," he admits. "That's not a great place to be in life. You've got to be thick-skinned about it, and," considering the polarizing effect his movies seem to have on folks, "I'm not as thick skinned as I need to be."

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