THE DARJEELING LIMITED
The key word in the title of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited is limited, as his latest film, chosen as the opener of the New York Film Festival, will appeal mainly to the director’s diminishing circle of fans. Arguably the most self-indulgent and silly of his five-film oeuvre, it may even persuade loyal followers that there’s nothing really to get. The emperor’s new clothes have only gotten more expensive and Asian-inspired.
As with all of Anderson’s films, Darjeeling, about three brothers who reunite on an Indian train in an effort to bond, is an orgy of quirks and nonsense. But this time, as in Anderson’s previous $50 million-plus (cost, not box office) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, all’s gone amok. As Michael Hirschorn wrote in his recent Atlantic Monthly essay on quirk, “Quirk, loosed from its moorings, quickly becomes exhausting.”
Anderson again draws upon his coterie of cool friends to man his plot. Such as it is, the story has the estranged Brothers Whitman—Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and writer Jack (Jason Schwartzman)—hop aboard the eponymous train in the hope of growing closer, healing family wounds, and finding their spiritual selves.
Jack does find sex, in the form of Rita (Amara Karan), the train stewardess, while Peter grouses that wife Alice (Camilla Rutherford) is pregnant. He shares that he wants a divorce, although Alice has become successful as a producer of small clay pots. And Francis, the eldest, tries to boost morale and get his siblings to organize and focus on their spiritual journey.
Also starring are the many pieces of luggage (Louis Vuitton!), which are plentiful, ubiquitous and the film’s metaphor for the psychological, never-explained baggage borne by the brothers.
The train sometimes runs into trouble, actually once getting lost on the tracks (another metaphor?). At a market stop, Peter buys a snake that (for drama’s sake?) later escapes on the train. There’s an episode that has the brothers banished from the train and abandoned in the middle of nowhere (another metaphor?). They encounter a rushing river where they rescue a boy. Another dies and they attend his funeral-pyre ceremony. This episode inspires a flashback to the funeral of Whitman père, preceded by the brothers seeking to rescue Dad’s Porsche from an auto shop.
Anderson regular Bill Murray has a cameo running after the train. Barbet Schroeder (very high on the cool meter) does a bit as an auto shop mechanic. And towards the highly anticipated end to all this, Anjelica Huston shows up as the boys’ incommunicado weirdo mom, who’s become a nun in a remote Christian monastery.
All the actors amble goofily through their roles, although it is especially jarring to watch Anderson staple Owen Wilson, who recently attempted suicide, play a heavily bandaged character (the result, as the script has it, of a motorcycle accident).
Anderson’s stylistic indulgences are also on display. Characters often look straight into the camera. Music tracks—nostalgic but making no sense in terms of plot—seem lifted from anyone’s library of iPod favorites.
Odd, empty and lacking a single frame of truth, genuine emotion or wit, Darjeeling, shot mostly in India, does occasionally offer nice local color. Also on the positive side, Anderson is original and does fall into the category of auteur (he writes, directs and pretty much has control over the whole circus). You know an Anderson film when it hits you and, suggesting the fate of some unstoppable auteurs, you also know this film won’t make any money.
But Anderson has resources, energy, moxie, access to a group of boldface loyalists and a taste for the limelight that guarantee another film is already on the way. It will be interesting to see where this next all-expenses-paid cinematic trip will take him and his posse and on whose dime. Adieu to Steve Zissou’s Italy, the Paris of Anderson’s dopey short and alleged Darjeeling prologue “Hotel Chevalier,” and Darjeeling’s India. Next stop, Turks and Caicos, Shanghai or Melbourne?
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