There are a couple different ways to approach reviewing The Darjeeling Limited. I can look at it from the mainstream audience's point of view, or I can look at it from the point of view of a long-time Wes Anderson fan -- which, coincidentally, I happen to be. The first thing my friend said to me as the credits began to roll: "Loved it ... but the film won't make a dime at the box office." Unfortunately, and most likely, that will be the case -- The Darjeeling Limited is a tough film for audiences to grasp, in that there's not much of a story to hang onto. Sure, there's a beginning, a middle and an end, but when you look back on it, everything sort of mushes together. There's also not a lot of physical action; a majority of the film takes place on a moving train, in one compartment, which subsequently leads to a very claustrophobic feel; albeit one that was intentional. And there's dialogue -- lots of it.
But this is a Wes Anderson film, and those of you out there who appreciate his sense of humor -- his quirky characters, his hipster soundtracks and his extraordinary attention to detail -- will most likely find a lot to love in The Darjeeling Limited. Essentially, it's a meditative piece about three brothers who reunite while on a train in India, having not spoken to one another for a year following the death of their father. In that time, Jack (Jason Schwartzman) was holed up in a hotel room in Paris, unaware of how long he'd actually been there. Peter (Adrien Brody) kept busy tending to his marriage, which he always expected would end in divorce, even though he really loves his wife. And Francis (Owen Wilson), who's the reason why all three are in India, has been recovering from a terrible motorcycle accident that left him near-death, which, afterwards, inspired him to take on this spiritual journey with his two estranged siblings.
All three are taking a train ride on The Darjeeling Limited (think: The Orient Express), which is set to make stops at several spiritual locations throughout India. Since the brothers are all extremely self-absorbed, they don't quite know what to make of their spiritual destinations, or, for that matter, how to act upon arrival. There's a sad history between them -- and each has quietly settled for the life of a loner, abandoned long ago by the ones they trusted and left to fend for themselves in a world where, conveniently, money is no object. But we don't know where all this money comes from, just that the brothers have enough to travel first class, with tons of baggage (literally and figuratively), and can do as they please without questioning the cost. Yet they pay a price when it comes to relationships -- with each other, with the opposite sex and with those around them.
This isn't the first time Anderson has played with the idea of social class and family in his films; from his very first, Bottle Rocket, which followed a group of friends while they attempt to stage a heist, although they don't need the money, to Rushmore (the relationship between a high school geek and a billionaire) to The Darjeeling Limited (in which three rich siblings try to find themselves and each other amidst spiritual poverty). Some were comparing Darjeeling to Bottle Rocket, though the film has more in common with Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, which also dealt with an estranged family reuniting and struggling to heal old wounds. In fact, the two films would make for a fantastic double feature .... if you're in the mood to spend an afternoon with two families more dysfunctional than your own.
Though it won't be playing in front of the film upon its theatrical release, it's important people watch Anderson's short film, Hotel Chevalier (which is now available, for free, on iTunes), prior to screening The Darjeeling Limited. It's not imperative, mind you, but the feature does go back to that hotel room scene in a variety of different ways, thus the film as a whole becomes a lot more enjoyable. And I can't say enough about the look of both films, Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited; shot entirely on location (and on a moving train), as always, Anderson drowns his characters in color. The exteriors are beautiful -- they place us there, in the moment, and are not used merely as fancy background for the hell of it. It's obvious the time Anderson, Schwartzman and fellow co-writer Roman Coppola spent in India prior to filming paid off tremendously. Anderson also employs his trademark one-shot toward the end, in which we pan through the train, into several different rooms, and catch glimpses of the characters we met along the way.
Scenery aside, it's the chemistry between Schwartzmen, Brody and Wilson that really takes the film up a notch. On the surface, it's hard to buy the fact that these guys are brothers, but Anderson and the script tack on so many little details -- mannerisms, idiosyncrasies -- that after three minutes on screen together, you're convinced the boys all came from the same place. Anjelica Huston, as the boy's estranged mother, comes in at just the right time, and even Bill Murray pops in for a cameo, if only to not let his Anderson streak end here (Murray has appeared in three previous Wes Anderson films). Though it might seem odd to hear, the film succeeds because a lot of the details are left out. Anderson cut entire scenes (in which, I imagine, backstory was explained) in order to let the audience come to their own conclusions. Who are these three brothers? Where did they grow up? Why do they steal from each other, lie to each other and hurt each other on purpose? While it's not entirely obvious, all of the answers are included in some way, shape or form -- but, like the three main characters, we're asked to search for them and, thankfully, they're not handed to us on a silver platter. For die hard Wes Anderson fans, The Darjeeling Limited is the film you've been waiting for all year. Sadly, everyone else might want to get off at the first stop ... although I strongly suggest staying on till the very end.
The New York Film Festival will hold public screenings of The Darjeeling Limited on Friday, September 28th at 7:45pm and 9pm.