The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson and his writers have come up with another off-kilter film in the vein of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Acquatic With Steve Zissou," which means that "The Darjeeling Limited" is a very extended shaggy-dog story, except that, like them, it isn't quite that simple. As with those two films, Anderson is more interested in the journey than the goal, and finds a way to keep us, if not enchanted, then at least intrigued. Three estranged brothers, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, who haven't talked since their father's death a year ago, come together in India with Wilson, the oldest, taking charge of everything (he holds their passports and orders their dinners) as he obviously did earlier in life.
The three are on a kind of pilgrimage, though Wilson has a goal in mind that he won't share with his brothers until late in the film, which is that their mother (a wonderfully fleshy Anjelica Huston) is a nun in a Himalayan convent. But there's more, as we say. Wilson is covered with bandages as though he were a living mummy; it takes the other brothers quite a while to get the story of how it happened. And all have what appears to be a complete set of Louis Vuitton luggage that they carry around with them, talk about product placement, and all of them have obviously stocked up on Indian pain-relievers.
So what happens in the film? Well, let's go back, because Anderson has prefaced the film with a 13-minute short called "Hotel Chevalier," in which Schwartzman and his now-former girlfriend, Natalie Portman, meet in a Paris hotel where Schwartzman has been holed up for at least a month and she tracks him down. It's called 'Part I' of the film, Part II being "The Darjeeling Limited." Are you still with me? They are tied together because at odd moments of the second film Schwartzman has the password to Portman's answering machine and he calls there to see who's calling her. But what of the others? Brody has run away from his pregnant wife, Wilson has, mistakenly or not, nearly killed himself on his motorcycle.
In any case, the three boys - it's hard to call them men, though they're all approaching forty - take the Darjeeling Limited on their month-long sojourn, buying connecting first-class compartments, finding an intriguing hostess, stopping when the train stops to make pilgrimages and to buy tchotchkes - like a cobra, for example, which escapes and gets them thrown off the train. But then the film takes a very serious turn, which I will not share with you, but which gives them a kind of resonance, a legitimacy, that wasn't there before; I found it very moving.
But what did bother me about "The Darjeeling Limited" was what I think of as Anderson and his cowriters' refusal to give his characters some kind of insight into their actions; something that could make us identify with them. Instead, they are like specimens in a jar; we are intrigued, sometimes amused by them, but never involved.