Posted: 10/10/2007


The Darjeeling Limited


by Jef Burnham

Wes Anderson fans have been wondering if there is any way he could top his wildly imaginative, 2004 adventure The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, while Wes Anderson detractors have been wondering if his follow-up, The Darjeeling Limited, could be any more insincere than its predecessor.

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One of the biggest complaints about Anderson’s films is that they are insincere. This accusation of insincerity can be attributed to Hollywood’s idea of sincere, cinematic emotion. As David Cronenberg said in an interview with Fangoria, “If there’s any major flaw in Hollywood, it’s that sentimentality is considered to be real emotion.” What people are seeing in a Wes Anderson film is not insincerity, but lack of Hollywood sentimentality.

When a person dies in a Wes Anderson film, we don’t get the swelling of music as their loved ones scream “WHY?!” at the Heavens before slamming their weary fists onto the floor, forcing even the unwilling audience member to tear up. No, because death in Anderson’s films is anti-climactic, as it is in real life. Our lives are not defined personally by our deaths; they’re defined by the living of them. Anderson understands that.

Anyone who views this lack of forced emotion in Anderson’s films to be a problem will find themselves with quite a distaste for The Darjeeling Limited. It is his most non-sentimentally sincere film—and definitely the most beautiful. Beautiful in its depiction of loneliness, human interaction, and the way it cinematically captures the landscape of India.

The film centers around three wealthy brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) taking a spiritual journey across India as they attempt to reconnect with one another after a year of not speaking. Wes Anderson, along with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, wrote this film by taking a similar trip across India, and though a number of critics believe the film to be largely improvised, it is not. The dialogue came naturally from the things the three did and said on their trip.

The story plays out like a puzzle, with the audience picking up clues along the way to get an idea of who the characters are. Thanks to the realistic dialogue, the characters never give us monologues or arguments about trying to cope with their women issues, each other, or the issues with their parents. Anderson doesn’t insult us by forcing this information on us, so I’m going to follow suit and not delve too deeply into their characters here.

The brothers’ trip begins on The Darjeeling Limited, a passenger train making brief stops along the way to pick up more passengers. At each of these stops, the brothers rush around the cities, trying to have a spiritual moment by praying in the many temples and buying strange, local wares from the marketplace (pointy shoes, pepper spray, a cobra). However, these frantic trysts among the Indian populace seem to have no positive effect on the brothers. So when their itinerary falls apart, the real spiritual journey begins. Whilst this is predictable, it doesn’t make the following sequences any less spectacular.

Along the way, they inevitably bump into a host of interesting characters, including a sexy Indian stewardess named Rita, slews of non-English-speaking Indians, and ultimately, their mother, played by Wes Anderson regular, Anjelica Huston.

All the performances are superb—quite possibly the best Anderson has ever gotten. Anjelica Huston is especially notable, but the shining performance of the film comes from Adrien Brody as Peter. There are beautiful scenes in which Anderson is able to get more character development out of Brody’s eyes than he does out of any bit of dialogue in the film. There is also a delightful cameo by Bill Murray, who has appeared in every Wes Anderson film with the exception of Bottle Rocket (1994).

If you enjoy the film, it doesn’t have to end when you leave the theatre because you can also download a short film from iTunes, entitled Hotel Chevalier (directed by Wes Anderson and starring/written by Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman). It deals with the events just prior to The Darjeeling Limited between Schwartzman’s character, Jack, and his ex-girlfriend (Portman, who also appears in one shot of Darjeeling).

Jef Burnham is a writer/filmmaker in Chicago.

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