Few filmmakers have created such an honest depiction of family relations as Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. However eccentric the Tenenbaums are, their flaws are what make them relatable. Their tense relationships translate to the film’s emotional power in the end. With The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson takes his examination of family matters one step further. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody star as three brothers who reunite in India a year after their father’s funeral. Unwillingly, two of the siblings agree to join the oldest brother on a ‘spiritual’ journey across India. What ensues is an intriguing, hilarious, and ultimately touching trip. The movie contains all of the expected elements of a road trip film, all the usual stylistic quirks that come with a Wes Anderson flick, and yet it still manages to achieve a level of uniqueness and bittersweet maturity greater than any of the director’s previous films.
I have read that trains such as the Darjeeling Limited do not exist in India; a statement that I am willing to believe because it supports the fact that Anderson imposes his own rules onto settings that seem to be taken from the real world. It is a fact that all Anderson fans must be aware of and one that we are certainly all thankful for. Here, Anderson uses his ‘fictional’ train to wonderful affect. It is an ideal meeting place for the brothers in the way that it forces them to live close and stay with each other, for good or for bad. Then there’s the comedic moments where the Chief Steward is forced to intervene when the brothers get out of hand. Even the advancement of the train could be a metaphor for the characters’ relationships. Eventually, the train is left behind as the characters have other places to be, but it remains one of Anderson’s most subtle tools.
As anyone who has seen a few Wes Anderson movies will know, the director has enjoyed employing many of the same actors throughout his career. Bill Murray is one of those actors and he has a minute role in Darjeeling that amounts to little more than a cameo. However, two of Anderson’s other regulars, Wilson and Schwartzman, were given two of the film’s most important roles. Schwartzman performs well, his acting as Jack is nothing profound in my opinion. On the other hand, Wilson captures his character in an effortless fashion. This may be my all-time favorite performance by him. The third brother is played by Adrien Brody, who has proven himself to be an outstanding actor with roles in movies like The Pianist, King Kong and Detachment. His performance as Peter is the most effective piece of acting in this movie; whenever appropriate, he communicates fury, depression, or warmth. The real magic of the cast’s work here is that they appear sincere throughout every one of these expressed emotions. The audience simply forgets that they are watching actors.
Upon release, the movie received generally mixed responses from critics. Shockingly, it has been deemed “a frustrating movie” as well as “a slow train to Dullsville” by more than a few audiences. Granted there was one moment near the middle of the film’s runtime during which I felt as if all the story’s momentum had almost completely come to a stop. However, I quickly became reinvested in it once again within the next five minutes. So I think it is understandable that some viewers might be a little bored, but this is neither a dull film nor a poor one. I laughed more here than I did during Rushmore and I found the characters to be much more likable than the ones that populate The Life Aquatic. In fact, I enjoyed this movie much more than critics led me to believe I would. As it turns out, The Darjeeling Limited is as well-made, as funny, and as beautiful as any film Wes Anderson has ever made.