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Darjeeling Limited, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Rite Of Passage To Indian"
5 stars

Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” is a film that features such elements as dryly ironic humor mixed with moments of genuine pathos, some characters caught in the middle of impossible romantic relationships, other characters caught in the middle of impossible familial relationships, scenes of inexplicable weirdness juxtaposed with others that blindside you with their emotional power, a striking visual style in which virtually every frame is stuffed to bursting with little trinkets and knick-knacks that the camera obsessively fusses over, an eclectic soundtrack dominated by the lesser-known sounds of the British Invasion, an appearance by Bill Murray and a final sequence that rattles around in your head long after the end credits have stopped running. In other words, it is a typical Wes Anderson movie and in this regard, he has been criticized in some quarters for once again relying on his usual bag of self-indulgent tricks instead of attempting something new and different. My response to this response is two-fold. On the one hand, I can sort of see where his critics are coming from because much of this film will seem familiar to those of you who have seen and enjoyed Anderson’s previous films (“Bottle Rocket,” the masterpiece “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tennenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”). On the other hand, he deploys these materials in such fascinating and disarming ways that the film feels like a fresh and vital endeavor instead of just another serving of familiar leftovers. More importantly, it shows him willing to take some chances again and the result is his best and most satisfying work since “Rushmore.”

This time around, Anderson sets his story in India and begins by introducing us to three estranged brothers who are reuniting for the first time since the passing of their father approximately a year earlier. The oldest is Francis (Owen Wilson), a gregarious control freak who comes in with a bandaged-up head (the result of a mysterious “accident”) and a never-ending array of schedules and activities. The middle one is Peter (Adrien Brody), an introspective type who is coping with the loss of his father by trying to claim as many talismans of his as possible–not only does he wear Dad’s old eyeglasses, he even leaves the old prescription inside them even though he can barely see as a result. The youngest is Jack, a pseudo-romantic whose seemingly sophisticated nature cannot disguise a neediness so great that he continually calls his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine to check her messages and hear her voice. Now together again aboard the Darjeeling Limited, a rickety train out of a colonial-era storybook, Francis announces that he has gathered them together so that they can go on a spiritual journey of healing–“We’re here to find ourselves and bond with each other and say yes to everything. Can we agree to that?” (What he doesn’t tell them is that he has tracked down their long-lost mother (Anjelica Huston), who took off years earlier and who is now a Catholic nun working as a missionary, and that part of their journey will be dedicated to a reunion that no one but him seems to want.)

They agree to that but the uneasy truce between the three of them doesn’t last for very long–between a passel of badly-kept secrets, Francis’ overbearing nature (not only does he provide detailed itineraries for each day’s activities, he even has an assistant on hand to laminate them), Peter’s weirdly possessive nature when it comes to the memory of their late father and Jack’s ill-advised dalliance with the train’s savory snack girl (Amara Karan) get them in a lot of trouble and when the tensions finally explode (“I love you but I’m gonna Mace you in the face!”), they are thrown off the train with all of their baggage, literal (a set of elaborate suitcases belonging to their late father) and metaphorical, and left to fend for themselves. Unexpectedly, it is as this point that their ridiculous stabs at spiritual enlightenment give way to the real thing and through a series of unexpected events, they find it within themselves to forgive each other, to learn to simply live in the moment and reunite with the mother who may have left them physically a long time earlier but, as we discover, never left them from a psychological standpoint.

As someone who considers “Rushmore” to be one of the greatest comedies ever made, I am willing t give Anderson a lifetime pass for whatever he wants to do. That said, even I found his previous film, “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” to be a little bit of a mess–while it had many virtues to speak of (especially the great Bill Murray performance and the elaborate production design), it was perhaps a little too self-consciously mannered for my tastes, although I noticed that it did improve somewhat on subsequent viewings. Although just as arch and visually overstuffed as his previous films, “The Darjeeling Limited” has more of a loose and off-the-cuff feel that fits perfectly with its more laid-back surroundings. Although there are many laughs to be had from the brothers and their ridiculously self-aware attempts at spiritual enlightenment, the screenplay by Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola is by far the sweetest and most empathic that Anderson has ever worked from and as a result, we find ourselves laughing with the characters instead of sneering at them with the kind of disdain that has become all too common in most contemporary comedy.

What gives the film its power, however, is the genuine sense of pathos that Anderson effortlessly weaves into the material. All three of the brothers are emotionally damaged individuals–Francis has a number of heretofore unknown spiritual demons that he struggles to keep at bay, Peter is so paranoid about the upcoming birth of his first child that he has taken off to India without even telling his wife and Jack’s inability to find a nurturing romantic relationship sends him into one doomed romance after another–and instead of using these developments as gag material, the film treats them seriously and deals with them as such. Later on, once they have been booted off the train, they come upon a seemingly idyllic scene that swiftly and inexorably turns into tragedy in a way that reminds us just how close the unthinkable is to us on a daily basis despite our best efforts to insulate ourselves from the world at large and leads to a funeral sequence as powerful and moving as anything I have seen in a good long time. This is a risky move for a film like this to make–mixing comedy and tragedy in the extremes seen here can often leave a bad taste in the mouth–but for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I was actually moved by what occurred during this section and the way in which the events finally helped blast the three brothers out of their collective ruts.

It is in these scenes that “The Darjeeling Limited” suggests that Anderson may be ready to do exactly what his critics have been yelping for and set aside his usual bag of tricks in order to take a chance with something new. In the haunting and beautiful final scene of the film, the brothers are rushing to catch yet another train and are forced to let all their cumbersome familial baggage go in order to begin their new adventures. As cinematic metaphors go, some may find this bit to be a little too archly symbolic for its own good but in the context of the film, it is undeniably effective. More importantly, it seems to suggest that Anderson’s next project will be something genuinely new and different and if that is the case, I cannot wait to make that trip.

In a strange move, Anderson has made a lovely little short film, “Hotel Chevalier,” that serves as a companion piece to the main feature and which features Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (as his estranged girlfriend) in a semi-romantic hotel idyll that takes place just before the events of the film proper. Although Anderson has shown this short at festivals and at press screenings, people paying to see “The Darjeeling Limited” in theaters will not be privy to it–for the time being, it can only be found as a free download on iTunes and on the film’s official website. (There are rumors that it may be added to the film later on and it will appear on the DVD.) Anderson’s bizarre reluctance to screen it in conjunction with the main feature is strange, especially since it both offer some much-needed background to the otherwise sketchily conceived character of Jack and sets up one of the main film’s funniest moments. If you plan on seeing “The Darjeeling Limited,” a pre-show viewing of “Hotel Chevalier” is absolutely mandatory. If you aren’t planning on seeing “The Darjeeling Limited,” you still owe it to yourself to check out the short.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16631&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/05/07 00:21:13
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User Comments

2/06/14 jnBcaZAmZfcsTLHmQQ PyUMKgonXnFdSCzo 2 stars
10/27/10 Ryan J. Marshall This is a film which I find to be very moving; a spiritual train-ride of emotions. 5 stars
5/24/10 MP Bartley Surprisingly affecting for an Anderson film with three great central performances. 4 stars
6/12/09 sharon Brilliant storytelling, beautiful images 5 stars
3/28/09 chris. watched it 3 times the night i rented it. beloved. 5 stars
6/22/08 chris. 2nd W.A. fave after rushmore 5 stars
3/13/08 Jefenator Undeniably dry and quirky. Can't always back up the tricks. 4 stars
11/10/07 pin Max Fischer with a moustache. Anderson made a beautiful film, again. 5 stars
10/29/07 Josh Absolutely phenomenal. I wish it didn't end. 5 stars
10/29/07 Wizard Music and exotic setting trump the story 3 stars
10/28/07 Private If you like other Wes Anderson films, you'll like this. Left me indifferent. 3 stars
10/04/07 DADADOF This movie is amazing. 5 stars
9/30/07 Wendell O. Maness I don't like spiritual BS, there is no god and this movie seems to be a spiritual quest typ 2 stars
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  29-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2010



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