Dear Wes Anderson: Thank you for the early Christmas present
, your new, nearly
for the H&M apparel chain. It arrives just in time for the holiday season and its title addresses the anxiety and detachment that holiday shoppers might feel on top of trying to relieve post-election stress. (And thank you, Wes, for being one of the few entertainment industry folk to avoid entering that fray with self-serving political commentary.)
departs from most commercial advertisements (such as David O. Russell's elaborate, extended narrative-ad for Miuccia Prada) in two special ways.
First, its moving train premise--Brody plays Ralph, a train conductor on the H&M Winter Express, who finds a way to make the most out of an 11-hour snow delay--continues the "road-of-life" theme of
The Darjeeling Limited
, still the most emotionally complex of all Wes Anderson films.
Much of Anderson's delight and complexity come from an identifiable visual style--his movies are as meticulously designed as a gift-wrapped Christmas present, or the window display of a high-end Fifth Avenue retailer. Every Anderson film features this Vincente Minnelli-meets-Jacques Tati visual whimsy, which has inspired some viewers to interpret Anderson's style emotionally, aesthetically as gay.
Indeed, the conductor's vest that Brody wears is color-coordinated with the H&M Winter Express' steel-blue motif. His four waist and breast pockets have holly-red inserts peeking out from their green trim that matches the train's Douglas Fir-colored interior passageway. Brody could be your funny uncle who arrives at Christmas, immaculately attired with an abundance of personality and fabulousness behind his mustachioed melancholy. (There's a touch of bromance when he places a Santa Claus cap on his Assistant Porter, Fritz.)
reminds viewers that the season's conspicuous consumption should include a spirit of generosity and fellow-feeling--a "coming together" that isn't just political lip service. Panning right along the train's compartment windows, Anderson shows passengers in their private worlds--lonely but each carrying a personalized gift box as if anticipating reunion. Next, his camera tilts up and moves in reverse, a visual dance that dynamically draws you into toy-train imagination, the childhood nostalgia that, in its pre-sexual innocence, also suggests a gay essence.
This playtime motif rescues Anderson from what was becoming insular and cutesy in
. He must have finally realized what was wrong with
The Grand Budapest Hotel
, that explosion of Pepto Bismol pink decor, stomach-turningly precious cleverness and unexpected brutality. This feels like a wonderful sequel to
The Darjeeling Limited
proves Anderson's artistic growth in its empty passageway montage--visualizing the gay alienation dramatized in films like Jodie Foster's
Home for the Holidays
and Thomas Bezucha's
The Family Stone
. Yet, in this interlude, sunlight briefly floods the corridor, a sped-up, time-lapse avant garde depiction of natural phenomena and spiritual radiance. The H&M Winter Express passengers are summoned to Conductor Ralph's holiday bunch and, there, Anderson uncannily repeats the joyful Christmas climax of Terence Davies'
The Long Day Closes
It's like a 3D pop-up Christmas card, depicting an end to loneliness. It is also, unmistakably, a tribute to commercial recovery. Ralph & Fritz make a serious, industrious partnership, working together with a moving purpose as "The Little Drummer Boy," the gayest of all Christmas carols, urges them on.
tops its notion of common ground with John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band's 1971 song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"--an expected Anderson choice that beats Lennon's agnostic "Imagine." Anderson uses the song's spiritual-political yearning to overcome the antagonism that our activist news media wants to replace with ideological conformity. As a Hollywood director, Anderson sees commercialism as our way out of polarization. His H&M Winter Express must be headed to the North Pole to deliver that message.