The Darjeeling Limited

starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman and directed by Wes Anderson
Rated R for language

Francis (Wilson), Peter (Brody) and Jack (Schwartzman) are three brothers who haven’t spoken to each other since their father’s funeral a year ago, but Francis, the oldest, was recently in a near-fatal car wreck and he wants to reconnect. He lures his younger brothers to India under the pretext of embarking on a “spiritual odyssey” across the country by train. He also has an ulterior motive: to visit their mother (Anjelica Huston), who skipped the funeral and is now a Catholic nun in the Himalayas. The trip hits a bit of a snag when the siblings get thrown off the train halfway and must navigate the rest of the way by less conventional means, but of course, only then can their personal journey truly begin.

Wilson, Brody and Schwartzan have great chemistry together and it’s easy to buy them as siblings. Each one has his own peculiar quirks. Francis, whose head remains swathed in bandages throughout the film, is more than a little controlling. He begins most of his sentences with “Let’s make an agreement . . .” and ends them with advice which he considers beneficial and which he expects to be followed. He orders for his brothers when they are in the dining car and assigns them their beds in the cabin. He expects to run the whole journey by way of strict adherence to the detailed daily itinerary, which, no doubt, already has major epiphanies scheduled regularly along the way.

Peter seems to have been the most affected by his father’s passing. He is along on the trip even though his wife is almost 8 months pregnant. His brothers are disturbed to note that he has taken possession of a number of his father’s old things, including a pair of prescription sunglasses which he refuses to stop wearing even though they give him splitting headaches. Jack is fresh out of a destructive relationship that just won’t go away. He frequently sneaks off to check his ex’s answering machine messages and plans to sneak out of the trip early to meet up with her in Italy.

This is, as noted above, a Wes Anderson movie. If you’ve seen a Wes Anderson movie (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, for example), then you would have no trouble recognizing his distinct style here. His films have a great deal in common with each other, and The Darjeeling Limited is no exception. Stylistically we have Anderson’s carefully-constructed scene composition, his odd characters, his unique choice of soundtrack and even his unique yellow titles. Anderson has more or less settled on a particular set of actors, as well: Schwartzman, Wilson and Huston are all regulars, as are Bill Murray (who has a very brief cameo appearance) and several other familiar faces whose names I don’t even know. It’s a little like watching a Christopher Guest mockumentary, waiting to see what roles the regulars will crop up in. Adrien Brody, in this case, is a newcomer to the Anderson scene, but he is excellent as always.

Most importantly, though, are the recurring themes that Anderson addresses in his stories. His movies tend to be about gifted but emotionally-distant people whose families have weighed them down with a great deal of baggage, handicapping their ability to maintain healthy relationships. Over the course of a series of bizarre and often hilarious events, these characters experience something life-changing and begin to heal rifts between themselves and their families and friends. The key difference in The Darjeeling Limited is in its setting. Whereas Max Fischer had his beloved Rushmore prep school, the Tenenbaums gathered in their odd little townhouse, and Steve Zissou sailed the seven seas in his expeditionary yacht, the Whitman brothers find themselves completely outside their normal environment.

India, the country, the people, the culture (music, religion, food), is woven deep in the very fabric of this film. The bulk of Anderson’s other films often transpire within a carefully constructed and almost gleefully artificial set. While this remains true to a certain extent of the train, a large portion of the movie is spent off the tracks, among the people of India, in their towns and villages and beautiful countryside. Perhaps Anderson is maturing as a filmmaker or perhaps he simply couldn’t tame India the way he has other locales, but the country is almost another character, and the film is much richer because of it. In A Passage to India, the characters seek in vain to experience “the real India,” in The Darjeeling Limited, the characters succeed. This is not just India by way of Wes Anderson, it is Anderson by way of India.

Note: The recent, wider release of The Darjeeling Limited includes Anderson’s short film Hotel Chevalier tacked on in the front of it. The short stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman in an interlude in a hotel in Paris that serves as a sort of introduction to Jack’s character. The bit was previously available to be viewed online, and audiences were encouraged to see it before seeing the longer film. It is a decidedly unconventional thing to do, and I don’t know what the reasons behind it were (perhaps an altercation with the studio due to the nudity in the short film). In any case, Hotel Chevalier certainly enriches our understanding of events in The Darjeeling Limited and I was pleased to be able to see them both together in the theater (where they probably should have been in the first place).

~ by Jared on November 9, 2007.

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