Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
It kept popping up throughout my 2009 video essay series "Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style," not just because it was, at that point, his most recent movie ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox" hadn't been released yet) but also because it crystallized themes of death and loss that he'd been dealing with since "Rushmore."
I revisited "Darjeeling" again for my "Directors of the Decade" series at Salon.com (where I paired Anderson with another world-building director, Robert Zemeckis—digital to Anderson's analog). I examined the movie again when Wes asked me to write and edit a video essay on "The Darjeeling Limited" for the Criterion Collection's 2010 Blu-ray disc. I revisited it yet again while writing the critical essay on "Darjeeling" for "The Wes Anderson Collection."
So I was understandably daunted by the prospect of finding a fresh angle on for this new series, which journeys through the director's filmography in chronological order. I wanted to think that Wes Anderson's films are inexhaustible, but clearly "Darjeeling" would test that theory!
I ultimately settled on the approach you see here. This video essay with Steven Santos isn't about "The Darjeeling Limited" specifically, but a look at themes of death and loss via "Darjeeling," or through the lens of "Darjeeling," if that makes any sense. It's about how Wes Anderson's most dynamic and troubled characters try to manipulate important aspects of their lives to achieve a desired outcome, but ultimately get smacked in the face by the world, which won't even acknowledge what they want, much less bend to accommodate it.
I suspect the director's opinion on all this is represented by that John Lennon line about how life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. That's my read on it, anyway.
Chapter 5 is, unsurprisingly, the only video in this series with a script written almost entirely from scratch. There are phrases taken from earlier "Darjeeling" pieces (linked above) and brief sections from the "Darjeeling" essay in "The Wes Anderson Collection," plus a few observations cribbed from the interview I did with Wes for the book, including a famous "Barry Lyndon" quote that came up in our conversation. It's a bit of a Frankenstein's monster, this piece, stitched together from disparate parts.
The midsection, however, is drawn directly from my own life, and quotes from one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. You'll recognize it when you get to it.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...