From the opening sequence, in which the train-chasing strides of Adrian Brody travel in rhythm with The Kinks’ This Time Tomorrow, it is clear that The Darjeeling Limited is a film about movement; about journey. Set across the heart of a beautiful, roaming India, Wes Anderson’s 2007 ode to the trials and tribulations of brotherhood sees Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and the aforementioned Brody in lofty form as the Whitman siblings.
A joint writing venture from Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, the film begins with the revelation that the brothers haven’t spoken in the year following their father’s death. There’s a recurring theme of baggage, here. Literally, through the items that the siblings lumber around throughout their journey on the eponymous train, much of which includes items belonging to the late Whitman Sr.
Then, there’s the case of the metaphorical baggage, the emotional stuff – of which all three brothers are carrying in abundance.
Peter (Adrien Brody) is riddled with anxiety about the birth of his first child whilst still mourning for his father, Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is still coming to terms with a chaotic breakup, whilst the eldest, Francis (Owen Wilson), though dominating and patriarchal, unravels more and more throughout the trip. ‘I want us to be brothers again, like we used to be’ states Francis at the journey’s commencement. It’s clear that they haven’t been brothers in a long while; it’s clear that they haven’t been themselves in even longer.
As with every Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited balances offbeat humour alongside ideas of loneliness and personal dejection, all whilst remaining beautiful to look at. Anderson’s lens ranges from roving to kaleidoscopic, pairing the quaint symmetry of the richly vivid carriages with the pictorial spirituality of the Indian heartland. The ensemble, which features Anjelica Huston, Ifran Khan, Amara Karan, Warris Ahluwalia, provide an excellent supporting cast to the film’s stars, whilst Bill Murray shines in a typically volatile cameo during the film’s opening.
Whilst both Wilson and Schwartzman are excellent as Francis and Jack, it’s Adrien Brody, making his debut as an Anderson associate, who steals the show as Francis, the middle Whitman brother. Poised, and strikingly handsome, Brody’s Francis appears to a reasoned detachment, yet behind the shades, he’s sad, alienated and scared. Brody plays with him enough alpha control to make his cracks all the more alarming, with their intermittent frequency making them all the more powerful. ‘I didn’t save mine’ he reveals blankly, during one of the film’s most devastatingly poignant moments. Here is a man who seems to find himself failing constantly, and can’t seem to understand why.
Subtle and gorgeous, The Darjeeling Limited is worth watching alone for its usage of The Kinks’ Strangers during a funeral scene. Whilst many will claim it’s one of Anderson’s weaker efforts, its commitment to physical journey make it an important transitional piece in the director’s canon, which saw static, suburban pieces, such as Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums, usurped in favour of adventure, with Darjeeling, as well as Moonrise Kingdom and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizou, signalling a new, voyaging era for Anderson.
‘Dad’s bags aren’t going to make it’ shouts Francis at the end of the film, in one of modern cinema’s most overt metaphors. The Darjeeling Limited is about shedding, letting go and the personal evolution that comes from it. Whilst the train journey across India directs the film’s beginning, it soon becomes evident that it’s the least important journey undertaken during the 90 minute running time. Like any good trip, The Darjeeling Limited quenches your thirst for adventure, whilst staying anchored to the importance of what’s close. It’s a film you must watch.
Words by Niall Flynn