Upon making the decision to partake in a sort of retrospective of Wes Anderson’s career to date, I was surprised to discover the title of a film I’d heard nothing about. That film? The Darjeeling Limited – and after viewing, I know why! This soggy burrito of a film is an all-round unsatisfying experience that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth – in my opinion, Anderson’s most forgettable to date.
The film centres around three unlikely brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brodie and Jason Schwartzman, who meet on the titular “Darjeeling Limited” to partake on a part-spiritual, part-family reunion journey through the Indian Subcontinent. The brothers, estranged for the preceding year following the death of their father, include; Francis (Wilson), the controlling parent of the group; Peter (Brodie), a depressive and whiney kleptomaniac; and Jack (Schwartzman), a banal womanizer. As the movie progresses, we witness the brothers break, bond and grow as they abuse prescription pain killers and fail to finish a cigarette (fun fact: no one finishes a cigarette in this film), all the while journeying towards the dual goals of self-enlightenment and re-establishing contact with their estranged mother, currently residing in the Himalayan mountains.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – Wes Anderson
Whilst the prospect of Wes Anderson applying his craft to an Indian setting is enough to make even the most impassive film lover salivate, audiences are unfortunately left wanting as a strong cast is wasted in this go-nowhere adventure-drama. It took me around 30 minutes before I realised what I was in for – A banal script and an uninspiring plot, further limited by a set confined for the most part, to a single cabin on the Darjeeling Limited. Like one of those rich guys with a stable full of exotic cars that never see the light of day, Anderson starves his actors of the opportunity to display their talents and does little to take advantage of the rich beauty supplied by the location. Reportedly, the role of Peter was written for Brodie. I couldn’t stop thinking “I’ve seen The Pianist! I know this guy can act!”. You wouldn’t know it from the performance, however, not that Wilson and Schwartzman fair any better.
In addition to the poor characters, there are many elements of the film that seem to be lacking in purpose. For example, Wilson’s character Francis appears heavily bandaged throughout; the backstory being that he crashed his motorcycle in what is later revealed to have been a suicide attempt. The problem is that this information does little to enrich the plot or character development of Francis, leaving one wondering whether the decision to dress Wilson in such an elaborate guise was, in fact, made prior to demands of the plot. There are many other such occurrences of beside-the-point phenomena throughout, including the unexplained drug taking of the protagonists, Jack’s pointless fling with the stewardess, Peter’s unreasonable desire to drive his Dad’s Porsche, and the entire prequel film, “Hotel Chevalier” (starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman). I am not trying to say that every piece of information contained in a film needs to have meaning; to serve the plot or some other higher power, but rather that this film contains a large amount of superfluous material that does little to enhance the quality of the experience.
In fact, the entire plot feels like an afterthought to me. After a whiplash inducing flashback where we see the brothers fail to arrive on time for their father’s funeral, we learn that their mother was absentee. After finally reconnecting with their mother, she ghosts them once again and we are left with no explanation after the characters choose to accept this fact and move on. Anderson seems to be trying to pull the old “the journey is the destination” ploy on us here, something I struggle to accept given the unrewarding nature of the “journey”. The brother’s spiritual pilgrimage sadly fairs no better than their effort to reconnect with their mum. After a couple of failed attempts at enlightenment; the actors doing their best to impersonate a 12 year old’s idea of a spiritual experience, they end by having a breakthrough on top of a large mountain. The shot is reminiscent of Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain”, although it captures none of the magic.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – Wes Anderson
from the original scores of legendary director Satyajit Ray (the film is also dedicated to Ray). I can also credit it for introducing me to the tune “Where do you go to (my lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt. Fans of Anderson will also appreciate the rich yellow, blue and tan colour palette as well as the Marc Jacobs designed Louis Vuitton luggage featuring original artwork by Eric Chase Anderson. Sadly, that’s where it ends.
In the penultimate scene, we witness the protagonists literally and metaphorically shed themselves of their father’s baggage. By this point, I was also ready to shed myself of the baggage that was this film. The meta-level lesson here is that no one’s perfect, not even Wes Anderson. Luckily for us he was quick to rebound for what is arguably his best film to date – the “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.
1 / 5