April 26, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited Review


Length: 91 min

Précis: Typically stylish and eccentric Wes Anderson affair, but it’s faster, funnier and more engaging than previous efforts.

Review by Matt:

The Darjeeling Limited is the latest comedy/drama film from director Wes Anderson, an idiosyncratic American auteur whose previous films include The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Neither of those films appealed much to me, and I especially found The Life Aquatic tedious and distancing. The Darjeeling Limited is redolent of those films in its themes, style and cast (estranged family + deadpan tragicomedy + Owen Wilson/Bill Murray = Wes Anderson) but it is a better film and much easier to enjoy. It’s helped especially by a fast-paced first half and an irreverent wit. It’s an unusual and original (apart from other Wes Anderson films) look at familial relations.

The plot is a wandering affair following three American brothers’ reunion on an Indian train. The eldest, Francis (Owen Wilson), is a micromanager who has suckered his younger siblings Peter (Adrian Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) into joining him for a trip of spiritual and fraternal healing. Squashed for a large part of the film inside busy carriages, the brothers pinball off each other with a humorous mix of familial love and violence, fueled mostly by the recent death of their father and the manifestation of various afflictions. These include broken hearts, suicidal tendencies, prescription Indian drug abuse, fear of commitment and, in the case of Francis, a comically bandaged body due to injuries suffered in a recent motorcycle accident. The brothers hop on and off the train, bicker, reminisce, and eventually trek out into the Indian countryside in search of a mystical experience and for their estranged mother who is now a Himalayan nun.

The joy of this film is in its beautiful and fussy detail. The screen bustles with both random and revealing accoutrements and the characters are spontaneous and full of quirks. Francis lugs around a mountain of luggage and hobbles on his cane, Peter squints through his father’s prescription glasses, and Jack won’t wear shoes. Odd encounters drive the plot. For the film’s first half these are all strangely funny and there is a great sense of chaotic energy. An interesting array of side characters supports the trio of tragicomics, most of them sharing the same aloof Bill-Murray-style persona.

The Darjeeling Limited puts us on a pretty bumpy ride. Even when you think you know where you’re going, you’re likely to smack into a glass door. It has a freeform plot and, like its titular train that inexplicably loses its way in the Indian wilderness, it takes the viewers seemingly in random directions. Its structure reflects a journey rather than a neat narrative. Thus we suddenly find the brothers crashing from comic to tragic territory and the film’s second half becomes slow and meditative. It makes the film seem longer than its 90 minutes. Some viewers could feel disgruntled at the clashing tones and sprawling plot. But there’s still plenty to appreciate in the film’s looseness.

What is most admirable is the meaning that slowly emerges as you weave together a thousand scraggly threads of detail. Little things the brothers do, say to each other, and encounters they have, blend together with a nice mix of intrigue and revelation. The film is also smashingly designed, with its classy framing and tracking shots, a colourful set, and the occasional enjoyable intrusion of turbulent Indian life. Add in the atmospheric soundtrack and you’ve a stylishness that really coats on a bonus layer of pleasure.

Like other Wes Anderson films, The Darjeeling Limited remains a potential audience divider, but it’s the best of his films for showcasing his sense of stylish melancholy, and probably the film with the most accessible characters (though they still mostly remain ponderous). It may not be totally emotionally satisfying, but you’ll at least see an individual style in action, and it could be the style that tickles you just right. Or it could annoy you. I found it a funny and fascinating ride.



  1. I definetly thought that this was Anderson’s best film to date. His earlier movies were good though some were hard to watch, Tenenbaums especially, and I never enjoyed myself as much as this one.

    I hope it’s just the start of a new direction for him, one that I will enjoy a lot more.

  2. I found the Life Aquatic a far more enjoyable film. It had an eccentric world that absorbed and encapsulated you. I found the Darjeeling Limited lacked that for me. Whilst it was stunningly shot and had all the wonderful quirkiness of his other films it seemed lost in its plot for the most part. I still really enjoyed it but i guess it felt like somewhat of a come down after the genius of Life Aquatic.

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