Review: The Darjeeling Limted (2007)

Director Wes Anderson’s body of work presents something of an enigma. Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenebaums (2001) are critical delights, with Tenebaums even earning Anderson an Academy Award nomination. Following the success of Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums, his first feature film, Bottle Rocket (1996), has since become a cult classic. Yet, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) was poorly received by audiences and critics alike. (Richard Roeper called it “one of the most irritating, self-conscious and smug films of the year, working neither as a dark comedy nor a character study.”

Following many successes and one small disappointment (and people only seem to remember failures), Anderson’s next film needed to remind critics and audiences alike why he has been a celebrated auteur.

The Darjeeling Limited does just that. Once again Anderson uses his unique filmmaking style to tell an unconventional story about family, love, and life’s many oddities.

The Whitman brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), estranged since their fathers death the previous year, reunite for a six week train trip throughout India. Each brother has their own problems: Francis recently attempted to commit suicide, Peter is trapped by the image of their dead father, and Jack cannot forget a woman he last saw in Paris. Francis sees this trip as an opportunity for the brothers to reconnect with each other, their mother (played by Anjelica Huston) and themselves. Bill Murray, Kumar Pallana and Natalie Portman all make cameo appearances in the film.

Anderson’s distinctive style is frequently influenced by great filmmakers, artists, and writers; he incorporates the slightest elements from their works to help create his own unique brand of filmmaking. Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J.D. Salinger are just some of the artists Anderson has stated as his major influences.

The films of legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray inspired Anderson to choose India as the location for The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson sets important scenes (such as when Francis declares “We have yet to locate us!”, after the train gets off-course) in the same locations Ray used in The Golden Fortress (1974) and he uses Ray’s

original score to structure key scenes in The Darjeeling Limited.

The aesthetics expected from a Wes Anderson production: eccentric but flawed characters, dark humor, unusual costuming, exceptional music, and quirky stories, are ever present. Yet by setting the film in India, one of the most gorgeous and profound locations in the world, adds a new aesthetic element to a Wes Anderson production.

Through the brothers’ unusual journey and use of Indian culture to rediscover life, The Darjeeling Limited becomes a metaphor for a way to figuratively and literally leave your baggage behind. With this film Anderson broadens his usual interpretation of reality, making The Darjeeling Limited his most mature and interesting film to date.

While not a perfect film, The Darjeeling Limited indicates that Wes Anderson’s next production could be his best yet. And I’m looking forward to it.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
November 1, 2007

Updated October 20, 2010

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