The Darjeeling Limited is the second Wes Anderson film I’ve seen. I did mean to check out more of his films since seeing Moonrise Kingdom last year, but have not gotten around to it until now for some reason. I will say that this one was a lot easier to get a hold on now that I am a bit more familiar with Anderson’ style. I suspected that might be the case. Though I am a bit more comfortable with it, his style still seems fresh to me and I enjoyed seeing it put to use with this story.
The Darjeeling Limited is a train, and three brothers are traveling on it for their “spiritual journey” through India. They haven’t spoken in a year since their father died. Francis (Owen Wilson) seems to be the oldest, he has everything planned out. He makes sure everyone has their itineraries for the day, orders food for everyone else, and keeps making the other two enter into these “agreements” with him (such as they will do everything asked of them even if it is dangerous, stuff like that, “can we agree on that?”). Peter (Adrien Brody) is about to have a child and believes that their father loved him best. Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is having problems with his ex girlfriend (Natalie Portman) and hopes to leave the spiritual journey early. The short film (“Hotel Chevalier”) that serves a prologue to the film shows Jack and his ex-girlfriend, and comes into the film towards the end, though it is not really essential that you see it in order to understand The Darjeeling Limited.
It’s pretty easy to get a feel for the group dynamic early on. The way the brothers act together is interesting and Anderson does a good job of setting it up. It’s clear that Francis is the control freak, and Jack is the one most wanting to get away. Often two of them will form alliances against the remaining one, especially in the beginning. This ends up being pretty funny because they are always fluid; if Peter and Jack start confiding in each other, for example, there is no way Francis is not going to find out from one or both of them. Sort of mirroring this is the way Francis gives and then takes back Peter’s belt that he got from their father. It’s a repeated gag that they use throughout the film to great effect. None of them can seem to commit to anything. Also showing this is Peter’s casual assumption that he will end up getting a divorce, even though he says he loves his wife.
Anderson crafts his characters in similar detail. I loved how Jack never had shoes on. This was a simple little detail that was never explained of even acknowledged, but for some reason it stuck out to me and really enhanced the film. Peter had his sunglasses. More obvious, Francis had all of those bandages around his face. Less noticeable is his cane, which he always kept with him. When they are catching their second train, everybody lets go of their luggage but he keeps his cane. Don’t ask me exactly what this means because I don’t know, but I thought it was interesting and it amazes me how well I’m remembering these small details.
The film is strictly a road movie, but with a train, so you’d think that by the end they’d have found the “enlightenment” they’re looking for and “become brothers again” as was the stated purpose of the “spiritual journey.” Whether or not this happens is sort of unclear, but I think that even though they may not have solved all of their problems, they’ve at least grown more comfortable with each other and have agreed to keep searching. That’s a more realistic and more profound ending to their journey than your typical family reconciliation probably would have been.
They are able to meet up with their mother (Angelica Houston), however. It’s clear that Francis got his habit of ordering food for everybody and making agreements from her. It’s quite funny to realize this, actually. There’s a really powerful scene where they just stare straight ahead as if they are reaching an understanding telepathically or something, and Anderson shows us some other tangential characters while some nice music is playing. Then they go back to the family. I thought this scene was more effective (at least for me) than a similar one in Magnolia that felt a bit sappy. This one didn’t at all; I really felt that they could reach something of an understanding without words. I think that’s characteristic of the whole film actually. Anderson sort of has his characters talk around things sometimes, but you know what they mean nonetheless.
Though I would probably still say I liked Moonrise Kingdom more, The Darjeeling Limited is a worthy part of Anderson’s filmography, for me. I was able to latch onto it quicker because his style is more familiar to me now, and that really makes a lot of difference. I’m looking forward to seeing some more of his films in the future.
“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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