Some have said that The Darjeeling Limited is a movie for Wes Anderson's fans. While that description is fairly accurate, it also suggests that this is some sort of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back project -- a self-indulgent film only for those filled with Anderson adoration. While it does tap into the magic that brings fans to the filmmaker -- the rich colors, quirky characters, and strange introspection -- it is also a study of grief, and a film that perfectly embodies the importance of charisma and chemistry.
As Erik Davis wrote in his NYFF review, it's hard to see Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson as brothers, but from the minute they come together on screen, each mannerism and look makes them seem immediately comfortable with each other, as if they are actually related and intimately familiar. It doesn't matter that they all look incredibly different. Brody slips into Anderson's world fluidly, and the three leads play off each other, making the quirk not only palpable, but subtly genuine.
Matched with the gorgeously heightened color and Indian backdrop, it's easy to fall into the world of the Whitman brothers and take their journey of grief -- and how each manifests in different, yet similar ways. Jack (Schwartzman) spends days and months in Hotel Chevalier, and numbs his depression with sexual obsession and the comforts of all-too-real art. He's the youngest brother who feels left behind, both by his brothers and his parents, and has no drive to turn that around, save to write about his angst in short stories. Then there's Peter (Brody), who is in a happy marriage, and about to have a child, but is so invested in disappointment and dysfunction that he tries to bring it upon himself. He is, at once, both sensitive and caring, and self-centered and destructive. And finally, there's Francis (Wilson), the brother who tries to take on the role of father figure, desperate to gain control over his brothers since he can't find a way to control his whole life. They strive for feeling, yet all dumb themselves with drugs and drama.
And while their journey doesn't turn out anything like Francis plotted; what was supposed to be a journey across India visiting spiritual locations that would bring them together -- it does exactly what it needs to do; let each face the ramifications of their grief. Each foible rips into a new layer of their weighted emotion and exposes what's below. At the same time however, it isn't some wrapped up, once they were sad, and now they are glad, sort of story. It's an on-going process, one they could slip back into a strive, once again, to break free from -- or, one that they could keep themselves out of.
But that's just the story. I wish I could say the same for the DVD. Yes, it contains Hotel Chevalier, but really, that's not an extra so much as a necessity. The only other thing on this release is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. It holds a lot of great info for the time allowed -- revealing the puzzle pieces of the moving train set, the artists who made each scene so beautiful, and a little of Anderson's directorial method. However, it also seems rushed. It sort of jumps in without a build up, and ends with no fanfare.
This is how I see it: There is some desk somewhere, piled with a ton of special-feature goodies -- ones just begging for a Criterion release. However, the studio powers-that-be know that to release this film without any special features would mean that no one would buy it. Well, a few would, but not enough to make it worth it. So, they throw together this little selection of behind-the-scenes goodies, slap it on the disc, and think it's good to go.
It won't fool you.
As a film, I would strongly recommend it. Anderson is a master at creating realistic fantasy set in super-infused beauty. He brings together irresistible casts. He makes the journey enjoyable. As a DVD, however, it's great if this is all they're going to offer, but I don't believe it. To me, this just says wait: a better set is on the way.