The Darjeeling Limited follows a trio of brothers on a train ride through India.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
With The Darjeeling Limited, director Wes Anderson has returned with his best film since Rushmore. With his latest, Anderson is traversing familiar territory, but none of it is geographical – instead, he once again takes on the dysfunctional father-figure themes that have been the track all his celluloid trains have run on. But this time things are different. The father figure has been dead a year, and his three sons have had no contact with one another, until Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) find themselves on a train in India, on a spiritual quest spearheaded by their oldest brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), whose entire head is wrapped and bandaged following a recent near-death accident.
It’s fitting that the film is named after and takes place on a train, because all three of the Whitman brothers are train wrecks of the emotional type. Each is spoiled and self-absorbed, unwilling to truly open up to and embrace his siblings. Peter has an obsession with his father’s possessions, Jack tunnels all his angst into getting laid, and Francis is desperate to be in control and to force his brothers to love one another, by any means necessary. They bicker. They fight. They are totally unable to let go of their own petty issues. They all think they want spiritual soothing, but they’re all more interested in shopping for cheap souvenirs when the opportunity presents itself.
As a director, Anderson is back to his old deadpan tricks, but unlike his last two films, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums, he finally puts everything out on the table. The Darjeeling Limited isn’t a particularly complex film, and that actually makes it stronger. The hidden truths aren’t hidden at all, and each empty gesture is merely a defense mechanism. The painful realities the Whitman brothers are facing, along with the baggage they carry – both physical and metaphysical – are fairly universal, even if the three are just spoiled rich kids. An encounter with their mother (Angelica Huston) and a blisteringly well-written funeral flashback gives insight into their flaws, and in one scene, how they truly have each other’s backs.
Robert Yeoman, who has shot Anderson’s four previous films, is back on board, capturing the dusty, colorful beauty of India, and creating gorgeous slow-motion shots that truly make the movie. Schwartzman, who shares a writing credit with Anderson and Roman Coppola, is great, both in Darjeeling and its companion piece, Hotel Chevalier, a short film available online that gives a little more insight into the feature. Owen Wilson, an Anderson veteran, has a moment at the end of the film, as he unwraps his bandages, that captures the picture’s entire theme. Adrien Brody, a newcomer to Anderson’s company, fits right in, packing his trademark emotional gravitas. While the three may not look alike, they understand the small-mindedness, the longstanding grudges, and the deep, unspoken affection that come simply from growing up in the same household.
Now, it’s easy to say that this is just another film about spoiled man-children, unable to deal with the realities of life, and that enlightenment, spiritual or otherwise, cannot be purchased from a travel agent. And you’d be right. But that’s the point, and that’s exactly why Anderson has gotten back on track.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED ( * * * ½ )
Directed by Wes Anderson • Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston • R, 91 min • At the Osio Cinemas.