The Darjeeling Limited

Film is such a subjective medium. I’m not revealing anything new here, I know, but it’s particularly fitting in this instance. Since it premiered at the NYFF, “The Darjeeling Limited” has been followed by rather bad buzz. Having already found Wes Anderson’s previous picture, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, to be disappointing, I was afraid this new movie would mark another step in the director’s downward spiral into clever irrelevance. But hell no! Unlike most of my colleagues, I actually loved “The Darjeeling Limited”. In fact, amazingly enough, it’s my favourite in the filmmaker’s oeuvre so far.

Which brings us back to the subjective thing. As you may know, I’m totally gay for India, at least as portrayed in its movies. While not particularly Bollywood-influenced (Anderson is more openly fond of Satyajit Ray, whose film music he borrows from copiously here), the fact that it is set in India still brings a lot to the feeling of the film, and everyone but a few actors are Indian. And you know what, the more I think about it, maybe “The Darjeeling Limited” does share some qualities with Bollywood movies: its vibrant use of light and colour, a tendency to hop casually between comedy, drama and action, the thematic importance of family.

So am I one of the rare ones to love this flick just because of that? Possibly, but I also believe that any Wes Anderson fan should be pleased with his latest, which further confirms what a rich, unique style he’s developed. You could look at any out of context frame from “The Darjeeling Limited” and instantly recognize his sense of visual composition. Even more so if you put it back into the flow of the film, with the meticulous pans and revelatory song cues (Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely), The Rolling Stones’s Play With Fire, Joe Dassin’s Les Champs-Élysées, various selections from The Kinks).

One thing that bothers some people about “The Darjeeling Limited” is how simple, almost obvious its story is. But, as you probably noticed, I’m almost 400 words into this review and I haven’t given you a plot summary, which goes to show how that is indeed not the most striking thing about the film. Three brothers go on a train voyage across India together, hoping to bond and let go of their latent issues with their (dead) father and (AWOL) mother. They do, kinda. The End. Okay, not the most complex and intricate tale in the history of cinema, but it doesn’t matter here, where it’s really all about the texture, the environment and the filmmaking itself.

Then again, as thin as the plot can be, the characters, on the other hand, are well defined and I love the dynamic between them. This undeniably has a lot to do with the perfect casting of the three leads. Jason Schwartzman, who also co-wrote the script with Anderson and Roman Coppola, makes a triumphant return to the Wes Anderson company (with whom he got his big breakout in 1998’s Rushmore – that film’s Bill Murray also makes an amusing cameo) as the youngest brother, who’s nursing a broken heart (see also: Hotel Chevalier). Adrien Brody is great too as the oldest, whose wife, to his dismay, is about to have a baby. And then there’s Owen Wilson who, just like in Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums, totally steals the show as the self-appointed leader of the trio. Wilson is playing the same Zen surfer cowboy dude as always (which fits particularly well in this here irreverent spiritual journey), but there’s an added layer of vulnerability, of brokenness, both literally (his character is wearing heavy bandages, having recently survived a road accident) and emotionally. But he’s still often hilarious, as is the film as a whole.

Really, subjectivity aside, I still don’t get why more people don’t love “The Darjeeling Limited”. It’s a great movie, folks!