This weekend, The Boyfriend and I ordered up some Indian food and settled in to watch The Darjeeling Limited. As a fan of Wes Anderson, but also a person who can admit that I find some of his work very uneven, I wasn't sure to expect.
The film follows the meandering story of the Whitman brothers (played by Owen Wilson [my favorite Wilson!], Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who travel across India in a train on a reluctant spiritual journey. I was pleased with the casting--obviously Wilson and Schwartzman are Anderson favorites, but Brody fit in rather nicely to the Anderson asthetic and was perfect as neurotic, kleptomaniacal middle brother Peter. Owen Wilson, usually known for his wacky stoner-type characters pulled back a little to play the bossy but fragile oldest brother Francis. Schwartzman was also good as youngest brother and peace-maker Jack. The brotherly dynamic was great, and it was interesting to watch the three of them play off one another. It was also sort of fascinating to try and figure out what had led their relationships to the current point and to wonder where they where headed.
The movie is definitely a character study, since really almost nothing actually "happens." It's basically 90 minutes of watching the Whitman brothers haul around their monogrammed baggage while trying to connect with each other and themselves. Anderson has let up on the precociously whimsical aspect that I felt sort of dragged down The Life Aquatic and this time allows his characters to interact a little more naturally.
Another thing that was particularly interesting to me was the way he almost made India a character in the movie. Having all three main characters in a place where they were uncomfortable and out-of-place created a situation that led to more conflict. I know that feeling of being the only white person in a place, wondering what people are thinking yet unable to find out because no one is speaking your language. It definitely makes you both extremely self-conscious and at the same time sort of uninhibited--self-conscious because you're completely different from everyone around you and you don't know what they're saying, yet uninhibited because none of these people know anything about you and most probably don't know know what you're saying about them, either. It's a set of circumstances that allow the Whitman brothers to put down a certain number of their defenses under the guise of trying to have a spiritual experience.
I definitely liked the movie, although I think I'd probably have to watch it again to even start to get everything. Like Anderson's other films, it's got a lot of visual depth and an astounding number of details that will require multiple viewings. I found it both funny and moving, closer probably to Tennenbaums and Bottle Rocket than to Rushmore or Life Aquatic. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to sit down and really WATCH it (it's not a movie you can put on as background--it will need you to devote your full attention).
Sidenote: Wes Anderson really has a thing about absentee parents. There is at least one in every one of his movies, except maybe Bottle Rocket. In Tennenbaums, Royal has been absent for most of his children's lives, and Chaz's wife is dead, leaving his two sons to deal with missing a parent. In Rushmore, Max's mother is dead. In Life Aquatic, Steve Zissou IS the absent parent, and Ned is the child learning to deal with that absence. And in Darjeeling, the Whitman brothers lost their father a year previous, and their mother has disappeared on them too. I don't know what it means, except that maybe ol' Wes has some parental issues.