Darjeeling Limited, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

My reaction to The Darjeeling Limited is much the same as for most of Wes Anderson's previous efforts: it's an easy movie to admire but more difficult to like. Technically and thematically, there's a lot in The Darjeeling Limited to arrest the attention. Emotionally, there's a void. Try as I might, I could not connect with any of these characters. Anderson keeps them at arm's length. Tragedies, both big and small, occur during the course of this offbeat road trip, but the impact on the viewer is minimal.

Some would argue that The Darjeeling Limited is a comedy. In a sense, that's true, and Anderson's previous efforts - from Bottle Rocket to The Life Aquatic - have all fallen within the loosely defined boundaries of the genre. However, this film is easily the most serious of Anderson's efforts, and seems more dramatic in both scope and intent. The "comedy," to the extent that it is present, is not the kind that will cause audience members to break out in laughter. It's more of the wry, cutting variety - the sort of thing that goes hand-in-hand with a screenplay that forces a reviewer to search for synonyms of "quirky."

Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are three grown brothers who haven't seen each other since their father's funeral. Now, a year later, they're going on a trip with each other across India by train. Their stated goal is that they're looking for spiritual enlightenment. In reality, each is running from something. Francis has had a near-death experience. Peter's significant other is pregnant with their first child. And Jack is coping with the collapse of a relationship. But things go awry on The Darjeeling Limited and they find themselves stranded in the desert, having to discover another way to travel. At the end of their journey is their mother, Patricia (Anjelica Huston), who, as it turns out, is as adept at running away as they are.

Each of these characters has an odd and obvious physical trait. Francis's face is heavily bandaged (as a result of the car accident that nearly killed him). Jack spends the entire film barefoot (and never seems bothered by his lack of shoes). And Peter wears his father's glasses, even though they have a prescription that doesn't match his. There's also the constant presence of 11 pieces of luggage - a legacy of their father with which they are unwilling to part. The luggage is colorful and decorated with animals and becomes one of the film's most obvious visual touchstones. What happens to it at the end is a little too overtly symbolic.

There is a prologue for The Darjeeling Limited - a 12-minute short called Hotel Chevalier. While this movie will play in tandem with its longer successor in film festivals, it will not accompany the theatrical release. Instead, Anderson intends to make it widely available (via the Internet) and recommends that everyone planning to see The Darjeeling Limited watch Hotel Chevalier first. The short provides useful background information about the relationship between Jack and his girlfriend (Natalie Portman, whose only appearance in The Darjeeling Limited is a one-second blink-and-you'll-miss-it clip), but it isn't mandatory. It's odd that the filmmakers decided not to attach this to prints of The Darjeeling Limited. Combined, the movies still run well under two hours.

The production covers a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively. At its heart, this is a tale of emotional healing, yet it's surprisingly dry for something that addresses such potent material. By the end, Francis, Peter, and Jack's variety of experiences off the beaten path in India have allowed them to stop fleeing. The Darjeeling Limited also provides an interesting, non-politicized view of cross-cultural interaction. The scenes in which Peter fails to save a young Indian boy from drowning then presents the body to his family are among those few instances when the film touches a chord of feeling.

Visually, The Darjeeling Limited is an interesting motion picture. Anderson displays a preference for longer takes than many directors. It's refreshing to experience a movie where cutting doesn't occur once every second or two. The film also makes use of a widely varied color palette. Such technical expertise also extends to the soundtrack - music from several of Satyajit Ray's movies are utilized as well as obscure songs whose lyrics are applicable to the scenes in which they are played.

There's something a little odd about watching Owen Wilson in a somber, introspective role in light of his real-life travails. Wilson is capable of serious acting - he has done it before - and his performance mostly hits the right notes, but there's not a lot of charisma evident. Similar comments can be made about Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman - solid acting but the characters remain clinical and detached. Anjelica Huston injects some energy, but she doesn't appear until the movie's twilight. Bill Murray has a small role and Natalie Portman appears in a single scene (although her work in Hotel Chevalier is revealing).

It would be fair to acknowledge that Anderson's films are an acquired taste. I consider him to be a gifted filmmaker, but the brilliance others have ascribed to him eludes me. The Darjeeling Limited is never boring - there's always something interesting going on - but I left the theater not caring much about the journey Anderson had taken me on. The characters exist simply to bathe in the film's quirkiness; they never attain the three-dimensionality that would have made this more of a memorable undertaking than a passable diversion.

Darjeeling Limited, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2007-10-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1