Brody joins Anderson train

The Darjeeling Limited takes off visually but retains familiar limitations


The idiosyncrasy—from set to characters—of any Wes Anderson film is expected. The colour scheme, actors, character flaws, humoristic-melancholic tone and intricate details are instantly familiar and marked as Anderson’s mythology that took off with Rushmore and was affirmed by the Royal Tenenbaums.

In his fifth film, The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson sharpens his vision and aims to create a universe, wider and more lush than before. Planting three wealthy and emotionally-disturbed brothers on a train barrelling through India, Anderson sets out to assemble his version of the country, manipulating textures, religion and people.

India’s exoticism through the film’s folkloric and fantastical gaze is telling of the West’s obsession with consuming other cultures and becomes a symbol for the capricious main characters’ juvenile attempts at enlightenment. Owen Wilson plays the eldest brother, Francis, a control freak who has organized a spiritual journey—finalized by a laminated itinerary—for himself and his brothers in order to deal with the loss of their father. Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) round out the sibling trio and assume typical birth order roles, which makes for well-executed comedic bickering and awkwardly tender interactions amongst the estranged brothers.

An unlikely lady’s man, the youngest brother Jack defines himself through unfortunate relationships and his short stories that he constantly and unconvincingly claims are fictional. Schwartzman and Wilson return to familiar Anderson ground but it’s newcomer Brody who steals the show with dramatic flair as he plays a reluctant father. Brody is welcome, fresh blood to Anderson’s actor roster, providing the film with an elegant and complete character. Superb in his timing, Brody delivers comedy and sincerity in contrast to Schwartzman’s affected, though often hilarious, lines. Despite their differences, all three brothers share a penchant for prescription drugs, expensive items and an unstable approach to life. Wilson’s character wanders around the movie bearing his physical wounds, portraying a vulnerability that echoes the actor’s recent life events and his actual brother Luke Wilson’s performance in The Royal Tennebaums.

Although Anderson’s The Royal Tennebaums dealt with similar subject matter—rich, dysfunctional families who are striving for brilliance and survival—the presence of a narrator lent a cohesiveness to the story and the multitude of personalities kept it fresh, allowing for breaks from unlikeable characters. In The Darjeeling Limited the audience must endure the brothers’ emotional baggage and watch them drag their more literal suitcases—designed by Marc Jacobs—from destination to destination until they can learn to let go. As the brothers speed along the tracks to enlightenment, or folly, a soundtrack featuring songs by filmmaker and composer Satyajit Ray, a nod to Indian cinema, accompany their mishaps and mad dashes to catch trains. It’s a delicate detail that subtly brings humility to the film and breaks from the Anderson universe, which is refreshing.

Throughout the journey, dizzying pans spin too quickly around carefully constructed landscapes, emphasizing the scope of Anderson’s vision. Striking, bold colours and masses of people blur and overwhelm. Anderson creates an organized din and although he succeeds in taking the visual to decadent new levels, his growth in other areas is wary.

Agonizingly self-aware, the film’s literal bluntness through lines, mementos, physical states or the whole train-as-life metaphor is obviously intended and well meaning, but irritating. Death becomes a consumable experience for the brothers, which is necessary because of the characters’ natures but uncomfortable for the viewers.

However, the trajectory of the plot, rather than resolving and reaching a final destination, is circular, which is perhaps Anderson’s most realistic move in his fabricated universe of quirks and affluence. The film is both enticing and repulsive: decadent scenery and layers invite the viewer while alienating them with characters that teeter between unsympathetic and endearing. The Darjeeling Limited walks a fine line but its universe is captivating and thankfully unpredictable. Perhaps in its quietest moments, when the self-referencing and deadpan irony fades, the film is at its most empathetic.

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