An eternal movie nerd, I've been a loyal Wes Anderson devotee since the days of Bottle Rocket on to the glory of Rushmore and, my favorite, The Royal Tenenbaums. After The Life Aquatic, I began to lose faith-- maybe Anderson was just a meticulous set designer with an impeccable musical score. My faith returns with The Darjeeling Limited, which follows the same themes as his prior work, but opens up a possibly unsettling, more mature respect for life, while maintaining that offbeat, slightly melancholic humor that makes his films so special. This is arguably his moodiest film, and also his least plot-centered, but also atmospheric and full of feelings of anger, resentment, and mirth, it's the one least centered around overly precious set pieces (though there are still plenty) and seems to recall a sort of lost 1970s American road movie.
The films is about three brothers, although with the exception of their overly elongated noses they look nothing a like, reconnecting after a year separated on "The Darjeeling Limited," an Indian train. The Whitman brothers-- Francis (Owen Wilson,) Peter (Adrien Brody,) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are all heavily neurotic and don't trust one another one lick, especially in the year absence since their father died, and their mother Patricia (Anjelica Huston) fled to India to become a nun.
Francis bands the three of them together for a spiritual journey throughout India, meticulously planning and updating his itinerary. He is also heavily bandaged from a motorcycle accident that might have been on purpose-- it's hard to not think about the real life Wilson in his characterization. Peter is dithering and prone to taking claim his deceased father's possessions, including a pair of prescription sunglasses he refuses to relinquish. He's also an expectant father, something he's kept secret, possibly masking his feared inadequacies of being a dad. And finally Jack, a writer of what he claims to be fiction, is getting over a crippling relationship-- he spies on his ex-girlfriend's answering machine.
That's the setup and all that's important. The brothers fight and argue and share Indian muscle relaxers all carrying their baggage with them. The symbolism with that is that they are literally carrying their baggage-- now famous matching luggage designed especially for the film by Dolce and Gabbanna. The first half of The Darjeeling Limited almost plays a Three Stooges episode with the goofy brothers squabbling and bickering and bracing into comical bits of physical comedy.
But it's the second half that's revelatory and surprising. When the train actually gets lost-- how does a train get lost, it's on rails? A wrong turn puts the brothers in turnaround and sets off on a real journey of enlightenment, one Francis couldn't possibly have planned. There's a scene so strong and jarring, I was momentarily jolted-- I won't give it away, it's best going in fresh, but it demonstrates, I think, an understated maturity by Anderson (who wrote the script with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman.)
The Darjeeling Limited is one of films I treasure for it's keen sense of surprise and wit. It's kind of like Wes Anderson unplugged. The elements of his previous movies are still there-- immaculate camera work, interesting set pieces, wonderful score, and generosity with actors that few or no other directors know how to properly use (Huston, Wilson, Schwartzman, and Bill Murray, who pops up here in an amusing cameo,) but there seems to be more emotion, more (often) brutal familial honesty and less fancy camerawork. As if he himself was on an emotional and spiritual journey reconnecting with making films that matter. A-