Wes Anderson films are not set in the same world in which you and I live. If they were, every member of The Royal Tanenbaums would have been strangled by someone close to them. Even if the three brothers travelling by the Darjeeling Limited do not try our patience to the same degree, it is still hard to imagine them occupying the same physical universe as the rest of us. That is either a testament to the writer/director’s imagination or a damning statement about his grip on reality. For the moment, I will give Anderson the benefit of the doubt and endorse the former view.
The Whitman brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody), reunite aboard a train in India after being apart for more than a year following the death of their father. The meeting is being engineered by Francis, who recently survived a near-fatal motor cycle that has left him looking a bit like the mummy’s nerdy brother. He wants to re-bond with his brothers on what he calls a “spiritual journey” across India, although he has another ulterior motive. Jack is a writer leaving behind a destructive relationship in Paris and Peter is away from his pregnant wife, a fact he has hidden from Francis.
A series of incidents involved unresolved sibling issues, Jack’s pursuit of a pretty Indian stewardess (Amara Karan), a poisonous snake and can of mace gets them thrown off the train by the imperious Chief Steward (Waris Ahluwalia), stranding them in the desert with Jack’s massive pile of baggage, forcing them to walk toward their ultimate goal, a reunion with their mother (Anjelica Huston), who now lives in a convent and never returned for their father’s funeral.
The best and worst thing you can say about The Darjeeling Limited is that it looks, sounds and feels just like a Wes Anderson film. This is well-trod territory for the filmmaker and, while you might admire his craft, you kind of wish he would move on and leave behind the usual motifs. Perhaps he needs to leave behind familiar actors like Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston (and Bill Murray in a funny, wordless cameo) and work outside his comfort zone.
That being said, it is a beautiful film to look at and not without its charms, even if they are familiar charms. The performances mesh perfectly with Anderson’s idiosyncratic sensibilities, although Owen Wilson’s emotional neediness is a bit discomfiting given the actor’s recent history.
The festival screenings, wider theatrical release and DVD of this film were accompanied by a short film entitled The Hotel Chevalier, staring Schwartzman as Jack and Natalie Portman as his ex-girlfriend. It plays like an extended deleted scene and isn’t really essential to enjoying the main feature. It basically consists of two people speaking elliptically to each other and then almost having sex. It’s more notable for Portman’s first (and probably last) nude scene than for its contribution to The Darjeeling Limited, which consists of providing a form of symmetry to a scene late in the movie.
Taken as a whole, the best word for The Darjeeling Limited is “interesting.” It’s the work of a talented filmmaker who is creative enough to be testing himself more than he does here.