Three brothers, Peter, Jack and Francis all meet in India and re-connect in a spiritual and emotional journey through the countryside. That is the one-sentence plot of Wes Anderson’s most recent film, ‘The Darjeeling Limited.’ What sounds simple on paper turns into an on-screen character study featuring three of this era’s most interesting and watchable stars. Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson play the brothers.
The film is a series of set pieces, where the brothers fight, and reconcile, only to fight again. Peter has left just as his wife is about to give birth. Jack is a writer who can only write what he experiences himself. He is still getting over a relationship with a girl, which is explained in the short film proceeding the feature, ‘Hotel Chevalier,’ with Natalie Portman playing his ex. Francis, the organizer of the trip and the one who got his brothers to come together, is recovering from a motorcycle accident. All three brothers are dealing with the death of their father, each one coveting his various possessions.
Finally Francis admits that the real reason they’re all together is to go talk to their mother, now living in a missionary. He wants to know why she didn’t come to their father’s funeral.
The film is typical Wes Anderson, with slow motion shots, obvious sets, incredible detail on props, 1960s and 70s rock music and very static shots, usually broken up by whip panning the camera.
However, there’s something deeper going on here as well. Anderson is playing with these characters, working on building a back story that comes out in drips and drabs. Usually his characters seem a little cartoonish, but here they are fleshed out better than other films and there’s a depth that is heretofore unknown in Anderson’s cinematic waters.
When I first viewed the film in the theater, I thought it to be a solid, well-crafted movie with hints to what Anderson might do in his next live-action feature. (His next film is an animated of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox,’) A second viewing of the film shows even better the depths that Anderson is exploring. Yes, his trademark shots are all there, but there’s something different about them this time. The film got a bad rap upon release. (Several friends mocked one of the final shots of the film as a rather ridiculous, literal accounting of an emotional growth period. Is the shot silly? Yes, in a way. But how does it work in the film? Very well, indeed.)
I’ll admit that I’m sometimes a Wes Anderson apologist and consider him one of the great directors currently working today. His visual style and storytelling is unmatched. It is only with time that I have re-discovered ‘Darjeeling Limited.’ It is a film that keeps coming back to me with new thoughts and questions. A film that does that can’t be all bad. –Sam