“How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.” — Jack Whitman
This brilliant non sequitur is as effective as any in describing the peculiar world of The Darjeeling Limited (2007). On the most mundane level, Wes Anderson’s fourth film concerns a train trip through India taken by three brothers. Their journey on the decidedly nondescript Darjeeling Limited passenger line becomes much more than a simple trek through the desert though. In fact, it goes way beyond the spiritual quest oldest brother Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson) had hoped for.
The metaphorical voyage the three Whitman brothers find themselves on is nothing more, or less than that of life itself. It had been a year since all three last saw each other. The occasion was their father’s funeral. As rough as that was, mother Patricia Whitman (Anjelica Huston) managed to stick the familial knife in a little deeper by skipping the service altogether. She moved to India and became a nun.
Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody) agree to join Francis mainly out of curiosity. All three appear to be in their late-twenties to early-thirties, and based on the accoutrements they travel with, seem well-off. The film, which was scripted by Anderson, Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola, often pauses to focus on little epiphanies, such as Jack’s “lost train” comment. The grand insight, as banal as it may be, remains elusive to the end though.
With the goal of taking his younger brothers on a spiritual journey through India, culminating in a surprise reunion with Patricia, Francis’ intentions are noble. The one thing that blocks his path is the one thing he cannot see: himself. Francis wants this to be a perfect experience, accordingly he uses the tools that have worked for him in the past. He brings along an assistant, a meticulously thorough assistant no less. The men are issued laminated itinerary cards each morning regarding arrivals, departures, sightseeing, and every other possible activity they might engage in.
Needless to say, enlightenment is fleeting at best for the trio. What happens instead is real life. As funny, stupid, willful, lusty, and dangerous as ever, the most salient discovery the Whitman brothers make is that they cannot escape themselves.
One of the many elements that make The Darjeeling Limited a modern classic is the humor. This is by far the funniest film Anderson has made. Adrian Brody slotted in with Anderson alumni Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman better than anyone could have hoped. Their casual onscreen familiarity makes the wild situations they keep finding themselves in all the more believable.
This new Criterion Collection release of The Darjeeling Limited allows the option of viewing the short “Hotel Chevalier” with the main feature, or separately. The 12-minute “Hotel Chevalier” is a completely separate entity from Darjeeling, yet it functions as something of a microcosm of the longer film. I found it rewarding to view the short as Part One of the film, the way Anderson recommends.
Becoming a part of The Criterion Collection is an honor rarely bestowed on newer films. Wes Anderson’s extensive participation in the bonus selections of The Darjeeling Limited reflect his interest in making this the definitive edition. The second DVD of the set is full of extras, and at first glance looks impressive. As it turns out, a great deal of this material is going to be pretty inconsequential to the average viewer. There were a couple of items I found interesting however.
The centerpiece is a forty-minute documentary on the making of the film by Barry Braverman. I had high hopes for this, but it turned out to be little more than long shots of the various locations that were being filmed. Very little dialog as well. Calling this a documentary on the making of the film is pushing it a bit.
The twenty-minute discussion with James Ivory about the music used in Darjeeling, and in the Merchant Ivory productions was entertaining and very informative. The same holds true for the twelve-minute Darjeeling essay by Matt Zoller Seitz. As he discusses the film, and breaks down various scenes as they occur, a number of details emerge more fully. I felt that this was a very illuminating addition, and one well worth watching. The other bonus I recommend is Wes Anderson’s American Express commercial. Apparently it was filmed on the set, and is one of the best ones I have seen, as far as these things go.
The remaining features include a couple of humorous deleted scenes, audition tapes, an awards list, stills gallery, sketches from Roman Coppola, and the diary of Waris Wolodarsky, who appeared as the train’s steward. The ten page booklet has a lengthy essay by Richard Brady.
The Darjeeling Limited is a fascinating, provocative, and hilarious film. Not to mention a beautiful one, with stunning backdrops of the Indian desert and ancient architecture informing most of the scenes. It also rewards multiple viewings, and with that in mind I highly recommend this new Criterion Collection edition.