(25/11/07) – There is a world out there that is Wes Anderson land, and it’s a place you either want to stay forever or avoid like the plague. If you were perplexed or annoyed by the quirky charms of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Rushmore or the sublime Royal Tenenbaums then quite frankly The Darjeeling Limited is not for you. For the rest of us it’s another reason to rejoice. Anderson’s films are so special because he manages to be meticulous about something that appears, on the surface, to be very laid back, almost ‘train of thought’ film-making.
As with Anderson’s previous films, The Darjeeling Limited is concerned with a dysfunctional family unit. Peter (Adrien Brody), Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are three estranged brothers, with very different personalities, trying to reconcile their differences on a "spiritual journey into the unknown" where their mantra is to "try anything, no matter how painful". Helping them, at least initially, is Brendon, list-maker extraordinaire and a dab hand with a laminator. Their journey takes them through India, although it turns out that one of them has an ulterior motive, hoping to track down their mother who has become a nun at a remote monastery.
The familiar cast (plus a few new faces), the repeated use of slow motion and the detailed attention to soundtrack – Anderson’s motifs are all are present and correct. As with Life Aquatic the mode of transport provides the narrative’s heart of the story, almost becoming a character in the way it functions as a connector of peoples’ lives, their relationships shown in a single shot of the key players sitting in their carriages while the world rolls by. The railway scenes were shot inside a real train, traversing the tracks in India, which can’t have been a simple task for a film crew. The train’s confines, with its claustrophobic corridors, ensure that tensions run high between not only the brothers but also the stewards, ever weary of the string of escapades the trio pull off, and secretly hoping that they will not make it on board for the next stage of the journey.
Not present for most of the ride is regular Anderson actor Bill Murray who is seen missing the train at the opening, in one of many nods to the Beatles that is prevalent in this film and Anderson’s previous outings ï¿½" the brothers’ own Magical Mystery Tour into Indian mysticism sees Help-like sand dune dashes along with Abbey Road style bare feet and suits. Again, Anderson uses his soundtrack as more than an aural backdrop. "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" is played almost in its entirety to counterpoint the poignancy of the on-screen events, but the Indian setting for the film has influenced a far more interesting choice of non-vocal soundtrack with the adoption of music from the films of Merchant Ivory and, more importantly, Satyajit Ray.
Accompanying The Darjeeling Limited is a short film Hotel Chevalier which introduces Jack and his girlfriend (Natalie Portman), who is mentioned in the main feature but not present in the film itself. Shot with a rich yellow glow this little companion piece works as a parlour play distillation of Anderson’s themes of cataloguing, codifying and collecting, of alienation and an indefinable sense of futility. Although it is more low-key than the main feature it does, nevertheless, help to get into the rhythm of Anderson’s distinctive universe.
As a package The Darjeeling Limited is a wonderful, eclectic film full of wit and emotion, marking Anderson as one of the great hopes of America’s new wave of auteurs. This bittersweet, deadpan comedy road movie about family is the perfect antidote to a summer that was filled to the brim with increasingly lame sequels and vacuous plotting.
The Darjeeling Limited is currently playing in the UK.