Wes Anderson isn't an asshole. He just comes across as one. There's something smugly superior about his tone, and about the way he answers questions. His choice in costume blue-and-white-striped pants, brown shirt, and green blazer doesn't help since he's either, a) as eccentric and/or weird as the characters he creates or, b) has become as eccentric and/or weird as his very successful creations. If it's the former, then he's surprisingly self-aware when, during a private conversation in his Beverly Hills Four Seasons suite, he admits that he tends "to have main characters connected to my own experience or people around me," but, if it's the latter, then he's become as frustratingly arrogant as many of his French New Wave idols like Francois Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. Both began their careers as film critics, but, as their success rose, seemed only capable of addressing those they perceived as peers with absolute respect. If you weren't on par with a director such as legendary German director Fritz Lang, then you were to be condescended to as Truffaut famously did to Steven Spielberg throughout the production of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which he co-starred in. This is sort of what it feels like to sit in a room with Wes Anderson, when you don't have an award-winning movie to back you up.
That said, Anderson is also pretty fucking cool. Most cinephiles would line up to get the chance to sit down with him for 20 minutes and, while this truth may or may not affect his manner, the actual experience is filled with many of the words that have come to be associated with the director behind Bottle Rocket and Rushmore: Color, charm, eccentricity, profundity, and, if you want to count his attire, style.
While lounging on a couch as striped as his pants, one leg cast out upon the glass coffee table before him, he explains that, "I definitely think that, with a movie like this, we were all very open to being changed by it, to being affected by it," of his latest, The Darjeeling Limited, about three estranged American brothers who reunited in India for a train ride and, of course this being India some spiritual enlightenment. "We were kind of looking for that, the same way the Jack character" played by co-writer Jason Schwartzman "uses his writing [in the movie] to deal with the problems in his life."
Anderson won't confide what problems he was looking to deal with in his real life via Darjeeling, nor will he admit that he's ever found enlightenment in cinema, but, at least professionally, it's a fair bet that, after the critical and commercial drubbing he received for his last outing, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou his first outright bomb turning to a smaller, more traditionally indie movie like Darjeeling was as strategic as it was ultimately personal. In fact, he says, "This one, there was a very conscious effort to make it personal even more personal than I naturally would."
So, Darjeeling which will probably ostracize more of Anderson's audience with his increasingly impressionistic style that does its best to strip away everything that explains what anything means is the director's most intimate movie to date. This means you will likely not get it. "I never think about my own style in the first place," he says which is why you have to ask someone like Schwartzman, who confesses the very real effort to peel away obviousness. "I just do it from my own perspective." Anderson adds, "Honestly, I'm not making movies where I think, 'Let me see how weird this can be.' With this movie, 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."
The filmmakers, including third writing partner Roman Coppola scion of Francis spent two years writing the script, often over speaker phone from different locations around the world. "I have a very long history with Jason," Coppola says, a clumsy way of saying that Schwartzman, along with his sister, director Sofia, are his first cousins. "We" Coppola and Anderson "have a friendship. They" Schwartzman and Anderson "have their own friendship. So [our lives] emulated the kind of fraternal relationships that would be useful to the movie."
Ultimately, the three friends collided in India where they carried out much of their characters' journeys, visiting villages and temples that eventually made it into Darjeeling. The script became an expression of their experience, and the making of the movie, which co-stars Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody as well, became an extension of that. Sadly, Wilson's recent suicide attempt will probably taint Darjeeling's critical reception for years to come, if only because his character is suicidal and actually probably ended up in the bandages he spends the movie covered in because he intentionally drove his motorcycle into a hill. The prescience of the role makes real life seem that much more tragic, and makes the experience of watching Wilson here that much more uncomfortable.
Earlier in the afternoon, at an interview round table with Anderson, another journalist tried awkwardly to bring Wilson up by asking what the actor brought to Hollywood. Anderson, perhaps a bit too smugly superior, definitely condescending, replied with, "I couldn't speak to what he brings to Hollywood ..." to make clear that "Hollywood" was a pop-culture creation cohabitated by paparazzi. He went on to praise his friend's acting talent while also not-so-subtly trying to make sure nobody got the idea he wanted to offer any more comments on Wilson's suicide attempt. Luckily, it worked.
"I don't worry about if people are going to like [my movies] until now," Anderson explains later in his suite, wrapping up his thoughts on how his movies, in particularly Darjeeling, come into being. "Like, I don't think who our audience is going to be. We're just working on our story, and trying to make it as original and good in our minds as we can."
Whether or not Anderson really is an asshole and he probably isn't, at least all the time the man means what he says. "In our minds" sums it all up, since more and more audiences have no idea what that means. Either the man is a genius on par with Truffaut and Godard and, consequently, it's your privilege to watch his latest movies over and over until you're comfortable deciding on any one of several interpretations of them, or he's a genius who's become so convinced of his, you know, genius, that audiences are no longer relevant to him. Whatever the case, he's an artist and there aren't enough of them in "Hollywood."
The Darjeeling Limited opens on Friday, Oct. 19, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111), and at the Michigan Theater (603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-8463). Look for our review in next week's issue.Cole Haddon is a film critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org