A Proper Send Off

Owen Wilson, 'The Darjeeling Limited,' & Wes Anderson's Monster

October 26th, 2007 12:21pm EDT
The Darjeeling LimitedOn the night The Darjeeling Limited opens, Owen Wilson's suicide attempt makes him a Tenenbaum for life (Aquatic).

There is a place in every human psyche reserved for the dark, brooding thoughts associated with death. There is even a sleeping monster that may ponder what holding a dead man would be like, or what people would say at one's funeral, or what sort of effort it takes to kill oneself? For most this dark spot of the brain remains largely inactive, awaking in nightmares and freak daydreams, only to be quickly pushed out of the mind until the next time it is unwillingly rejuvenated.
The Darjeeling Limited
For an artist, however, this monster can be constantly awake, dealt with, even rehearsed and mastered. For Wes Anderson, this is an understatement. He deals with the Monster on a daily basis. He even plays silly games with it amidst catchy soundtracks, spandex and jump suits, and lively colors. It's his job as much as it's his art.

Consider this: Anderson's previous three movies, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, and now "The Darjeeling Limited" are all incited by at least one (and often more than one) death which is either alluded to, seen, or painfully recent. They all use a fresh corpse for the conclusion or climactic change of the film. If this isn't enough, all three films deal with suicide at some point: whether attempted, unsuccessfully, by a protagonist, or successfully by an unseen character.

Then, to hammer the point of death's presence home, Wes' scythe also claims (or in the case of "Darjeeling" it is believed to have claimed) the life of a beloved pet in each film. In other words, the monster is given free rain to romp throughout Wes' imagination, leading admirably to the crafting of three modern works of 35mm art.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
If you're a Wes Anderson fan but you've never really thought of this dark thematic run, it's hard to blame you. Yes, Anderson's films are traditionally touching when it comes to life and death, but they often come off as much lighter than the material would suggest. Sympathizing, sassy and silly seem to be the name of the game when it comes to Wes' characters. They are juvenile and sophomoric, regular asses if not A-Holes, and tragically self-involved. They are fun to laugh at, and while you often find yourself attending Wes' on-screen funerals, you're often waiting for a blunt matter of fact zinger instead of a eulogy.

Look no further than the pirate-burial-at-sea seen in "Life Aquatic." When the crew runs into Steve Zissou's archrival (Jeff Goldblum), mid prayer, and Steve is asked, "What do we do with the body?," he doesn't hesitate to mumble, "Dump it over the other side." Or, let's not forget "Tenenbaums." When Royal is believed to be on death bed, his family loves him; when they learn he's faking, he's the goat. Then of course there is his epitaph he handpicked for his gravestone, revealed at his otherwise touching funeral. If anything pokes fun at death, it's that moment (if you haven't seen it, I won't spoil the surprise).

The examples are endless, and "The Darjeeling Limited," which expands from limited release to national today, is no different. The themes remain constant, as does much of the cast. Anderson lets the monster out of its cage to frolic and play among his troupe of regulars, and he has no more loyal a partner in grim sarcasm over the last 13 years than Owen Wilson.

Wilson has been there since the beginning, co-writing and staring in Anderson's first work, Bottle Rocket, as well as co-writing and making a cameo in Rushmore, co-writing and starring in "Royal Tenenbaums," and starring again in "Life Aquatic" and "Darjeeling Limited."

No doubt, if you hadn't pieced it together before this article, the irony of the situation has begun to dawn on you by paragraph eight. For Wes, Owen has scripted and played a pathetic rejected criminal busting at the seams, a drugged out writer who nearly kills himself, a charming pilot who crashes to his death, and now a power-tripping millionaire with a suicidal streak. This last one, of course, is particularly eye-catching given its proximity to Wilson's recent problems.

At first, it's confusing. Isn't Owen Wilson a silly, have-it-all comedian who can do no wrong when he saddles up to Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn? He's the king of turn-of-the-century comedy, laughing all the way to the bank. Surely somebody so funny and successful can't have such a sad streak in him? Keep in mind, this wasn't a drug induced suicide or accident like Belushi or Farley, this is supposedly a cut my wrists and kiss the sad cruel world goodbye kind of ending. Hard to believe Wilson could do this to himself, wasn't he happy?
Owen Wilson
It is, however, less of a surprise when we look at his oldest friendship and partnership with Anderson. Please don't misunderstand me and think I'm placing blame or giving an explanation of what is essentially impossible to explain. But there are tendencies, and there are clues. Wilson is no stranger to the monsters, and there have been signs of darkness long before his real life brush with death.

Let's not forget, Wilson helped write the story in which his brother, Luke, shaved his head and slit his wrists. Let's also not forget that Wilson has twice played a character that crashed his car at high speeds because of self-loathing, once in "Tenenbaums" and now in "Darjeeling." Let's not forget that Wilson penned "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket," where the main character is desperate for societal approval, scraping for some sort of validation from somebody. Is it really so unfair to think that Wilson may have felt similar pressure in his own life. Many A-list celebrities do. Is it dark? As Luke Wilson says in "Tenenbaums," "Of course it's dark, it's a suicide..."

That line is funny in the context of the movie. In fact, all of these characters Wilson has portrayed are ironic and funny, just like him.

It's Anderson-Wilson all over. The funny man is trapped in his own sadness. Owen has accomplished something that his character in "Tenenbaums" never could, a welcome into the Tenenbaum family. He is one of them now. Rock bottom. Sad. Surrounded by death.

The question is how will he respond? There are two sides to being a Tenenbaum - the tragic and comedic. It's what makes them tick. It's what makes Anderson a genius, and therefore, Owen Wilson one too. So if he were writing his own script with Wes Anderson, the key would be for Wilson to dust himself off and laugh it off. Anderson, when promoting "Darjeeling Limited" a week after the incident, was quoted as saying "(Owen) is making us laugh a lot." Perhaps then, there is hope. Like a line Owen helped scribe in "Royal Tenenbaums," "He didn't look that bad for a suicide... attempted anyway."

Will Owen Wilson keep on laughing until he's back on track? If the Anderson universe is any indication, he will or somebody else will in his stead. That's always the way. The movie continues, and after the dark there is light. In the case of "Bottle Rocket," there is time off for good behavior. In "Rushmore," there is recognition. In "The Royal Tenenbaums," there's a snappy tombstone. In "The Life Aquaitic," there's a glowing leopard shark. Or in the case of "The Darjeeling Limited," there's the love of his family. The real-life Owen Wilson will need a little of it all to help him rebound. The good news is there is always hope when you're a Tenenbaum, and there's always a chance for a new beginning. And, of course, there's always a pretty solid soundtrack.

Story by James Fagan
Starpulse.com contributing writer

Sources: People.com, IMDb.com