In his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” One year later, Wilde wrote in his famous novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” that “All art is quite useless.” Based on Wilde’s logic, then, it’s safe to say that life is useless.

For a case of this outlook in action, look no further than Wes Anderson’s latest film, “The Darjeeling Limited.”

In typical Anderson fashion, we follow the spiritual journey of three brothers as they forcefully attempt to rekindle their family ties and find themselves on a train ride across India.

Francis, played by Owen Wilson, is the self-appointed leader of the group. Unbeknownst to his siblings, however, he plans the trip in hopes of finding their estranged mother, played by Anjelica Huston, who left the family and became a reclusive nun following the death of her husband.

Meanwhile, brother Jack, played by Jason Schwartzman, attempts to get over his ex-girlfriend by romancing Rita, an appealing Indian stewardess played by Amara Karan. Adrien Brody is a welcome addition to the Anderson ensemble as Peter, the most timid of the three, who deals with the looming birth of his first child.

Wilson, who has appeared in all but one of Anderson’s films and received writing credits on the first three, is dead on as Francis, playing the wounded hero with a sense of conviction that is all too real. Covered in bandages from a premeditated motorcycle crash, Francis’s scars run deep, despite his cheerful exterior.

Watching Wilson, it’s hard to dismiss the notion that his character was at least partially based on his real-life counterpart. Yet, like the characters in Jack’s tragic short stories, we are reminded that it all amounts to no more than fiction.

Artifice is at an extreme high in “Darjeeling,” which is saying a lot coming from a Wes Anderson film. Elaborate sets, whip pans and zooms flourish in a film that is ultimately more about its own excess than a meaningful lesson or value. It’s dizzying and at times flat-out annoying, but in the self-contained world of Wes Anderson, he’s somehow able to get away with it.

While the film reeks of the familiar air of pretension, it nonetheless manages to entertain on many levels. This may be Anderson’s most legitimately funny film yet and, aside from a brief derailment halfway through the film, it concludes in a satisfactory and poised manner.

In the end, it is only through the shared experience of learning nothing that these characters are finally able to lose their baggage (in this case, Louis Vuitton) and find some release.

Art-house types may leave the theatre with a smug sense of self-satisfaction in assuming that they’re the only ones who “get it,” but, despite Anderson’s overindulgence, I’m convinced that he’s aiming for something more universal with his films.

Put simply, “The Darjeeling Limited” is a fun ride. It is the best addition to Anderson’s oeuvre since “Rushmore,” and it is a big step toward maturity for one of America’s most promising directors.

Is it artificial? Yes. Is it useless? You bet. Is it good? Very.

Milbrand is a member of the class of 2008.



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