Director/producer/screenwriter Wes Anderson and I get along better sometimes than others.
While I enjoyed “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic” did absolutely nothing for me. This
was foremost in my mind when I went to see Anderson’s latest, “The Darjeeling Limited.” While I
found it to be superior to “The Life Aquatic,” quite funny and touching at times, it didn’t have the
authentic voice of “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
“The Darjeeling Limited” is the name of a train in India taken by the 3 Whitman brothers,
controlling Francis (Owen Wilson, who spends most of the movie with his face wrapped in
bandages), ambivalent Peter (Adrien Brody), and amorous Jack (Jason Schwartzman who co-
wrote the movie). I found myself wondering who could have fathered these 3 with Anjelica
Houston, but it’s easy to move beyond this speculation because they have the easy rapport of
real siblings, portraying a combination of camaraderie, love, petty jealousy, and long-held anger
that brothers can simultaneously feel. Peter and Jack have taken the train on instruction from
Francis, and the 3 haven’t seen each other since their father’s funeral, 1 year earlier.
Francis has the trip planned out in daily agendas that are broken down into 5 minute
increments, Peter has uncertain feelings about his impending fatherhood and has actually
abandoned his 7 ½ month pregnant wife to join his brothers, and Jack is obsessed with his ex-
girlfriend, but not too obsessed to keep from pursuing the train’s stewardess. We learn all of this
fairly early on, and this is when the movie is at its best, establishing the eccentric characters, and
watching them share each other’s medications and wash them all down with cough syrup. A
character in “Thank You for Smoking” declared that the only people who can smoke in American
movies are villains and Europeans. The brothers are neither, yet all have quite a habit, noticeably
unusual in an American movie.
The brothers do indeed bond, but some moments in the movie must have seemed better in
concept than execution. Like all Wes Anderson movies, “Darjeeling” is offbeat, askew, and
pretty random. Sometimes this works far better than others. Why exactly does Peter purchase a
poisonous snake and take it with them? So it can get loose on the train, of course. This was
perhaps the movie’s most predictable moment.
The movie is about a journey, on several levels. The geographical journey through India is
beautifully filmed, and the film finds its emotional heart when the brothers stop rushing and come
across a small village. Irfan Khan, who was so good as the Captain in “A Mighty Heart,” brings
real emotional heft to a small role as a newly bereaved father. As for the familial journey, a
moment which should have emotional weight and doesn’t is the brothers’ reunion with their flighty
mother (Anjelica Huston, all but phoning it in). Francis, Peter, and Jack all have such a mixture of
anticipation and dread about seeing her that such a scene should have been moving, but it falls
As in previous Wes Anderson movies, none of our characters are particularly happy. In fact, they’
re a pretty morose group. Biting comedy can come out of pain, of course, but it sets a somber
tone for a comedy.
“The Darjeeling Limited” tries to be many things: an offbeat comedy, travelogue, and an
examination of familial relations. The segues between the genre moments can be jarring, such
as the juxtaposition of the humorous moment of the Whitman boys (I hesitate to call them men)
being kicked off the train with their mountain of monogrammed luggage to the seriousness of the
3 coming upon 3 drowning Indian boys. At times, the movie reaches its goals, and at others it
falls far short.
|The Darjeeling Limited
by Heather Craig
|*Heather Craig lives in Davis, California.