THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)
A year after their father's funeral, three brothers travel across India by train in an attempt to bond with each other.
Wes Anderson’s films are some of the most easily recognisable of the last few decades, as his style and technique is unmistakable. Obsessively symmetrical frames? Limited pastel colour palettes? Quirky characters, often played by Bill Murray and Owen Wilson? Chances are you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie, and The Darjeeling Limited is about as ‘Wes Anderson’ as they come.
When one of three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), is almost killed in a motorbike accident, he coerces his estranged siblings into joining him on a spiritual journey across India, aboard the titular cross-country train: Peter (Adrian Brody), who’s reluctantly having a child with a wife he wants to divorce, and Jack (Jason Shwartzman), who calls his ex-girlfriend’s home phone to spy on her messages.
The manipulative Francis is the one in control. He has an assistant, Brendan (Wally Wolodarsky), who prints daily, laminated itineraries for all the spiritual places they’re going to visit—which surely defeats the free-spirited nature of such a journey. He even orders food for his brothers without asking what they want to eat. There are clearly some unreconciled issues between this trio, stemming from the death of their father and absence of their mother. Perhaps the only thing holding them together is a shared taste for cough medicine and painkillers, and an obscene amount of Louis Vuitton luggage (which belonged to their father). However, through thick and thin, they become closer than perhaps they’ve ever been.
The Indian setting makes for a colourful, buzzing, exciting world. It’s in no way ‘touristy’, with Anderson instead using it as more of a background in the same way he repurposes original soundtracks from the films of Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. It all adds a layer of authenticity, but is juxtaposed by his familiar ‘miniature doll house’ aesthetic. The train itself feels like a toy we’re peering into, inhabited by tiny people, and you can put that down to Mark Friedberg’s excellent production design. He also worked on Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).
The writing and performances are exactly what one expects from a Wes Anderson movie, with his regular collaborators perfectly delivering his deadpan humour and having awkward conversations. There’s a sense that Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman are always playing around, even improvising at times, which adds to the whimsical nature of the whole experience.
Francis eventually reveals his true intentions (together with the extent of his manipulation) for the three of them to find and confront their absent mother (Anjelica Huston), who’s living as a nun in a Christian monastery up in the Himalayas. It’s only after this confrontation that the three men begin to reconcile their rocky relationships and confront their own personal demons, with their father’s Louis Vuitton luggage acting as a slightly glaring analogy for their emotional baggage.
On the nose it may be, but there’s a glorious slow motion sequence at the end where the three brothers throw their luggage behind them in order to run and jump on the train home. This theme of personal and emotional growth, through suffering and leaving the past behind, is evident throughout. And it’s epitomised when Francis removes his bandages in a bathroom mirror, after coyly revealing that his motorbike accident was in fact a suicide attempt, and declaring “I guess I’ve still got more healing to do.”
Although this enlightenment is the goal of The Darjeeling Limited, some of its most pleasing aspects are what takes place on the journey to that epiphany, much like a real-life backpacking trip. They visit Hindu temples, purchase a snake that eventually gets them thrown off the train, trek through the Indian countryside, and even saving a couple of village boys from drowning (and attending the funeral of the one they failed to). Some of this new Criterion Blu-rays deleted scenes include a moment where the brothers play cricket with local boys, and there’s a lovely alternate version of them manically running down a sand dune.
Although The Darjeeling Limited is clearly one of Anderson’s best films, it seems to have become overlooked when compared to the ongoing popularity of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The Life Aquatic. There’s something almost cult-like in the fandom for some of his other films, but Darjeeling is just as accomplished, funny, quirky, colourful, perfectly composed, and ostentatious as the rest. There is, however, something more moving and universally relatable about this than his other projects. The Darjeeling Limited is essentially a story about three lost brothers in the throws of an existential crisis, and is perhaps more relevant today than it ever was.
USA • INDIA | 2007 | 91 MINUTES | 2.40:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • HINDI • TIBETAN • GERMAN • PUNJABI • FRENCH
director: Wes Anderson.
writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola & Jason Schwartzman.
starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Irrfan Khan, Bill Murray & Anjelica Huston.