Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Wes Anderson
Jack: I wonder if the three of us could have been friends in real life – not as brothers but as real people.
Peter: I don’t know. We probably would have had a better chance.
Let’s make an agreement. Wes Anderson is a talented filmmaker. He has a distinct vision that may not be for everyone’s taste but his films are always colorful and his writing is always exploratory. His characters are usually bizarre exaggerations of downtrodden souls struggling to get back to the surface. The situations they find themselves in are far removed from the realities of the audiences that flock to enjoy them. The same faces reappear in film after film, from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson to Anjelica Huston and Jason Schwartzman, making his films feel at times like you’re hanging with the cool crowd. Their cool factor is only upped when they find themselves staring directly ahead in close-ups in the foreground of the screen – one of Anderson’s signature visual styles. All of these factors either delight Anderson’s numerous fans by appealing to their desire to revel in offbeat humour or repel his detractors who consider his work to be pretentious and empty. Keeping with the film’s spirit of healing and progress, I propose we leave what we know of Anderson behind us and open our minds to THE DARJEELING LIMITED – his most accomplished and satisfying film. Can we agree to that?
Wilson is Francis, the matriarch of sorts to Shwartzman’s Jack and Adrien Brody’s Peter. He has convinced his two brothers to join him on a spiritual journey through India aboard a train by the name of The Darjeeling Limited. The last time they were all together was a year prior, at their father’s funeral. None have healed fully from the experience and it is Francis’ intention to reconnect the threesome so that they can all move forward together. Albeit a well-intentioned concept, the damage done by their family dynamics throughout the years has made it near impossible for them to trust each other. Whenever one is absent from the trio, the two remaining take the opportunity to share something they don’t want the missing brother to know. It’s as if they are choosing the brother they know will handle whatever news they are imparting better. Realistically though, they each know that the moment they leave the room, the brother they told will tell they brother they avoided telling everything. In that regard, they do want to share with the group but they just don’t feel comfortable doing it directly. They play these boyish games while rejecting the need for Francis’ persistent mothering but whether they are buying poisonous snakes at village markets or chasing each other through adjoining train cars, it is clear that there are still many stops before maturity.
When the brothers are not busy sifting through the manipulation, they are seeking out spiritual enlightenment. With its rich tapestry of golds, blues and yellows, India makes for the perfect place for them to lose themselves with hopes of rebuilding. However, the copious amounts of extra-strength, locally found drugs the three share suggest that they aren’t quite finished numbing their pain just yet. Regardless, the journey itself and its intended purpose imply that healing is desperately needed. What the boys don’t realize is that healing can’t be forced. They visit temple after temple and partake in many a ritual hoping to put their past to rest without actually talking about or facing their very real issues. They’re trying so hard though and they clearly want it so bad, need it even. As they struggle to force it, it only seems to get further away from them. An urgency and a hope results in the viewer. These are likable guys and you want them to get what they need. In that respect, Anderson places you directly on the train along with them so that you too are along for the ride.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED is not a train wreck in the least. In fact, it is the opposite. It is a scenic ride that chugs along toward inner peace. The lull of the train serves to calm the chaos and it soothes the viewer as it does the brothers. With the train constantly moving forward, Francis, Peter and Jack will inevitably reach their destination, even though they don’t really know what that is. And with the speed it’s moving at, they can’t get off even though they might want to. Lucky for them, with Anderson wearing the conductor’s hat, there is no chance the train will be derailed.