Put it this way: We went to the 7:15 showing tonight. At 7:15, the lights went down, we watched some ads, about a zillion trailers for indie films (a lot more than I remember seeing normally), then we watched the Hotel Chevalier short, which Wes shot in a few days with Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman and then edited on his own computer. It served as a prologue of sorts to the feature presentation, which was comprised of many of these short story moments. So many little vignettes, so many mini story arcs within the main one that, as Carolyn noted, you could take one out of the film and it'd work on its own separately. (Wes understood this because he uses one of his favorite devices, the slow-motion walk set to music which usually signifies the end of a story, at least three times through the course of the film.)
But that's not the real magic trick. Sticking little stories to one big one isn't such a magic trick. What is, however, is the journey you take along with Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody. You may not be on the same spiritual journey as they claim to be, but you gamely go along for the ride. And the journey takes forever. The problem with so many short stories playing themselves out here is that every time one ends, you think it's the end of the film as well. So you get quite a few codas before what is ultimately quite a satisfying ending considering all you've been through, complete with the visual metaphor you've been waiting for since you noticed that certain device waaaaaaaaaaaay back when.
And the magic trick? Well, remember how I said we started the previews and then the short at 7:15? The film ended, I sat through the full credits (and if someone can get me an original copy of Joe Dassin's "Les Champs-Élysées", as iTunes won't let me download anything but cover songs of this tune unless I buy the entire Darjeeling soundtrack and I don't want to, I'd love ya forevs) and once everything was over and the ushers started cleaning the aisles, I got up and turned my cellphone back on.
It wasn't even 9:15 yet.
So that's the magic trick. Wes Anderson was able to make an incredibly long movie, an amazingly long movie, one which really amplifies the long journey taken on the train (and did I mention the absolutely beautiful train sets? And the absolutely beautiful natural landscape of India? And the absolutely beautiful cinematography? And the rich, saturated colors?) and left you feeling as tired out as you would after a journey of such great length, in a 91-minute run time.
No, seriously. Check it out on IMDB. It's an hour and a half long. And it feels twice that.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing, really. The good is that the pacing is such that you really do get to savor the beauty of the meticulously-prepared scenes, the truly emotional-yet-detached moments which Anderson loves (Anjelica Huston's scenes are a perfect example, and done quite well) and the long shots of the wide-open countryside which serve as perfect contrast to the tight shots of the claustrophobic train corridors. The camera lingers when necessary, even over slow dolly shots (hey, it's on tracks, too) which just keep on going.
Yet it's only an hour and a half.
The bad part is that we're wired to watch a film and recognize the emotional climax leading up to the actual ending, full stop, roll credits. And although I was well aware of all these little arcs resolving themselves, I felt like I was getting faked out each time. And each time I got faked out, the movie felt like it was stretching on longer and longer until I felt like we were reaching Lawrence of Arabia-esque running times.
But it's only an hour and a half.
Wrap that 'round your noggin.
But do enjoy the scenery while you're at it. It really is a beautiful movie. You just have to let things go, let the film take you at whatever speed it wants to, and try to remember that the Darjeeling Limited's a local train and makes many stops before its final destination.
(Oh, and big points for Hotel Chevalier as it successfully manages to convey through ambiance, atmosphere and one outdoor shot that is indeed set in Paris -- without once showing the Eiffel Tower.)