A lot of people express disdain towards The Darjeeling Limited, which hurts me. Friends and family have highlighted its banal plot and flaccid tone to justify their contempt. So why does it hold a place in my heart? My love for it is almost unexplainable, but that won’t convince the naysayers, so I will just have to try and articulate myself.
Mystery and ambiguity surround the narrative, and there isn’t much scene-setting at the beginning. Three brothers board a train in India, and the meandering journey begins. Slowly more begins to unravel, but it can all feel very bizarre and pointless along the way. However, this is the exact reason to love it. Wes has managed to ‘bottle’ one of life’s truths and it really is something to marvel at (just like a ship in a bottle). Life is a strange and confusing labyrinth, but occasionally, if you’re lucky, you have a couple of seconds of clarity and catharsis. The Darjeeling Limited, like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, has one of these moments.
Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), who lost their father one year before, travel to India to regroup and bond again. Snippets of dialogue suggest these affluent brothers live very separate lives, and the reasons become apparent. Bickering, resentment, and fighting ensue. Each brother has their own habits which seem to irritate at least one sibling. Francis, the oldest brother, has a predisposition to ordering other people’s food, and generally bossing people about. Peter, the middle brother, is a compulsive borrower and never asks permission. Jack doesn’t have one distinguished quirk, but is a tad self-involved with his own dramatic love-life. It takes a funeral, a magic feather, prayer, the warmth of the Indian people, and prescription drugs to bring these brothers back together.
The story is unusual, but it isn’t pretentious. What lies at the heart of this film is strong and well-developed characters that have an endearing nature to them, you can’t help but be sucked into this halfway world which is neither reality nor fantasy. It is simply Wes Anderson’s world, with witty sharp dialogue and highly stylised visuals. I am not an expert on auteur theory, but Wes certainly has a style that is hard to replicate. India provides Wes with a smorgasbord of beautiful locations which he captures with a wide-angle lens. Every shot is so symmetrical and proportionally, it really does sooth the eyes, but yet this style detracts from the ‘naturalness’ of each scene. This is not a real problem to me, because before you sign up to watch a Wes Anderson film, you agree to enter a fictional world. Robert D. Yeoman, the director of photographer, continues the style from previous films of frontal shots with characters facing the camera, side-on shots when characters engage in conversation, and plenty of dolly shots too. It is a trademark style which I love.
I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack yet; it includes The Kinks and Beethoven. Need I say more? I tip my metaphorical hat to you, Wes. This is your Pièce de résistance.