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Tourist attractions

Darjeeling is limited but rewarding
By PETER KEOUGH  |  October 3, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited | Directed by Wes Anderson | Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman | with Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wally Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Irfan Khan, Bill Murray, and Anjelica Huston | Fox Searchlight | 91 minutes

Darjeeling unlimited: Wes Anderson talks about India, Owen, and the short. By Gary Susman

Halfway through Wes Anderson’s picaresque train ride through India, everything stops. The train, it seems, is “lost.” Someone asks how a train can be lost when it travels on rails. That’s similar to the feeling I got at times during the film. It runs on a track that’s grown familiar in Wes Anderson’s career: a quirky and impeccable soundtrack (including selections from the Kinks’ album Powerman and the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7), whimsical and absurdist juxtapositions, a visual scheme ranging from Norman Rockwell to Magritte, non-sequitur dialogue, themes of familial conflict and obsessive love.

It’s worked before because of its seeming spontaneity. Lately, however, surprise has looked to be just another part of the plan. Yet though Anderson is covering the same terrain, it’s different from, and better than, most of what’s out there. And it can still take an unexpected turn toward the revelatory.

So though the saffron-infused cinematography that starts with the first scene may be a mannerism, it also transports the willing to the world of Wes Anderson. There they will encounter characters and a situation reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums. Seeking reconciliation with one another and with the past are three ill-sorted, idiosyncratic siblings: controlling, heavily bandaged Francis (Owen Wilson); melancholy, neurotic, nondescript Peter (Adrien Brody); and romantic would-be Romeo and writer Jack (Jason Schwartzman).

The vehicle for their reunion is the title railroad line, which will take them from the trauma of their father’s death a year before to the Black Narcissus–like convent to which their mother (Anjelica Huston) long ago fled. Needless to say, they’re carrying a lot of baggage: identical, butterscotch-colored Louis Vuitton luggage illustrated with jungle animals.

So much for metaphor. (Credit the screenplay for never once uttering the word “journey.”) The film’s success depends more on how the brothers amuse themselves along the way. Francis has compiled a rigid itinerary of sites, rites, and other epiphanic experiences designed to stir the siblings into spiritual awareness. Peter numbly and ineffectually resists. Jack broods about his lost love (the subject of Anderson’s gratuitous short prologue, “Hotel Chevalier”) and seduces the train’s stewardess (Amara Karan).

So far, not much to write home about other than the occasional chuckle or double take. But now and then, the train gets lost. At one point, the brothers disembark, climb a hill, look back, and behold a scene like one in Pather Panchali, but in æthereal color, as if painted by a Persian miniaturist. Later, they’re tossed out, luggage and all, and are thrust into the life and death of the land they’re crossing, and in a sublime cut, the Renoir-esque colors of a Hindu funeral switch to the blacks and grays of mourners in a limo in New York and the unfinished, repressed story at the film’s center at last unfolds. The Darjeeling Limited doesn’t stray far from the tourist route, but when it does, it opens up a world worth visiting.

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