05 November 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Full credits at IMDb

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola & Jason Schwartzman

Watch the trailer

Grade: A-

The Darjeeling Limited opens with Bill Murray racing to catch the film's eponymous train but, for better or for worse, he doesn't make it. It's a clever little in-joke from Anderson, who has featured Murray in his last three films (and as such could be credited with reviving and redefining his career, Lost in Translation be damned)—Murray has missed the train and, in effect, missed the film. Outrunning him, however, is Anderson newcomer Adrian Brody, who with the legs of a healthy young man hops aboard the moving train and thus sets off the film.

Despite Murray's subsequent absence from the film, The Darjeeling Limited doesn't exactly mark new territory for Anderson; it's more like Wes on holiday, his defining motifs relocated to the Indian countryside. There's the characteristically meticulous mise-en-scene, for example, though it's tough to tell whether it's a result of Anderson's design or if that's just what India is actually like, and perhaps what attracted Anderson there in the first place. The Darjeeling Limited is a train trip travelogue, making the occasional stop for a set-piece or set-up. But it's also, like his last two films, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, about family reconciliation, centered around three estranged, contentious, chain-smoking, analgesic-addict brothers, played by Brody, co-screenwriter Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) and Owen Wilson. (In Wilson's first film appearance since his attempted suicide, he is made-up, in a striking coincidence, as bruised and bandaged.)

"I wonder if the three of us could've been friends in real life," Schwartzman says, pointing out the compulsory nature of family ties. But Wilson isn't so cynical; "I want us to be brothers like we used to," he says, and so he takes them all out on a locomotive odyssey through India, a supposed-to-be spiritual journey, with the aid of his assistant, Wallace Wolodarsky, who in supplying the laminated itineraries and essentially planning their trip makes a neat little stand-in for the fastidiously controlling director. (At one point, he even vocalizes the symbolism of a scene to the brothers, as a director would likely do, though off-camera of course.) Wolodarksy and Anderson also have a bit more than a passing physical resemblance.

When the bickering brothers are inevitably booted from the train, they lose Wolodarsky and in tandem Anderson's characteristic whimsy dissipates, the film ultimately stumbling upon tragedy in a Day-Glo toned village. After the 86ing from the train, the cute but combative rapport between the brothers gives way to the root cause of their antagonism, a difficulty in dealing with the loss of their papa a year ago and the abandonment of their mother in the time they needed her the most. Aesthetically, The Darjeeling Limited is a film of ins and outs and backs and forths, underscoring the circular path of the brothers' emotional states as they refuse to deal with the death of their father. (It's also full of Kinks tracks off of Lola vs. Powerman and Money-Go-Round, Part One and helped make that album more accessible to me than it's ever been.)

The Darjeeling Limited has an undercurrent of emotional maturity beneath its hipster eccentricity; Wilson's copious bandages are in fact a manifestation of his deep psychological scars. "I've still got some more healing to do," he says, looking at his gruesome wounds in the mirror and speaking in double entendre. The Darjeeling Limited rightly recognizes that the problems of life are too complex to wrap-up neatly in a mere ninety minutes. Walter Chaw at Film Freak Central gets it right when he says that the film is, "about growing comfortable with being lost."

"We'll never get over it," Anjelica Huston, as the long-lost mother, says to her boys. "The past happened. But now it's over, isn't it?"

"Not for us," Wilson replies, speaking for his brothers. But The Darjeeling Limited is, thankfully, a movie about learning to stop feeling sorry for yourself, not about the satisfaction of wallowing in one's own misery (proving that Anderson is a hipster only deceptively); that is, it's not, necessarily, about learning to overcome one's problems—it's not about finding "closure"—but about learning to come to terms with those misfortunes. Appropriately, running to catch their train at the end the brothers are forced to abandon their bags, tellingly their father's trunks; they are literally leaving their baggage behind, but they're still a long ways from home.

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