The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola & Jason Schwartzman
Voices: Owen Wilson (Francis), Adrien Brody (Peter), Jason Schwartzman (Jack), Amara Karan (Rita), Wallace Wolodarsky (Brendan), Waris Ahluwalia (The Chief Steward), Irfan Khan (The Father), Barbet Schroeder (The Mechanic), Camilla Rutherford (Alice), Bill Murray (The Businessman), Anjelica Huston (Patricia), A.P. Singh (Taxi Driver)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2007
Country: U.S.
The Darjeeling Limited Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
The Darjeeling LimitedIn The Darjeeling Limited, director Wes Anderson returned to the familiar narrative and emotional terrain of tragicomic familial dysfunction, as well as his should-be-patented-by-now bag of filmmaking quirks. The landscape has changed, however, as the film is set entirely in India, which refreshes Anderson’s shtick by giving it a new aura of exoticism not necessarily of his own making, but also reminds us of the impending threat of outright staleness in his work. There is no doubt that Anderson is an exceedingly talented filmmaker with the visual acumen of a painter, but The Darjeeling Limited only confirms what The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) initially suggested: Unless he branches out into new territory aesthetically and thematically, Anderson’s best days may be behind him, not in front of him.

The Darjeeling Limited tells the story of three estranged brothers--Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman)--who reunite for a train trip across India. The trip is organized by Francis, the oldest, who wants to reconnect with his family, which apparently splintered after their father died a year earlier and their mother skipped the funeral. He envisions the trip as a great spiritual journey with destination unknown, although he is so pedantically organized about it (he even brings his personal assistant along with a laptop, a printer, and a laminating machine to keep everything running smoothly) that he threatens to kill any kind of spontaneity that results in a genuinely revelatory experience. The other two brothers are somewhat skeptical about the whole endeavor, but they go along with it (Jack has bought himself a plane ticket just in case he wants to escape early).

Although they all look exceedingly different, Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman are quite convincing as brothers. Their physical differences accentuate their emotional estrangement from each other, which is punctuated over and over again by divisive secret telling and humorously untimely revelations. Each character is dealing with some kind of trouble, whether it be the mysterious injury that has Francis’s head and face comically wrapped in gauze and band-aids, Peter’s concern over the impending birth of his first child, or Jack’s recent romantic travails (which are depicted in Hotel Chevalier, a 12-minute short film that is available for free on iTunes and played before the film in the theater when I saw it). Not surprisingly, the emotional wounds are dealt with on the surface by quirks in personal appearance (Francis’s aforementioned bandages, Peter’s refusal to remove the oversized sunglasses he inherited from his father, and Jack’s odd predilection for expensive suits sans shoes).

The idea of a journey across India as a form of renewal is an inspired idea in its own right, although it constantly threatens to reduce the country into a series of exotic setpieces. Anderson, who wrote the screenplay with Roman Coppola and actor Jason Schwartzman while actually riding across India by train, is clearly in the love with country and what it represents, and for the most part he manages to avoid the kind of cultural belittling that frequently happens when foreign countries are used as stages for the redemption of self-centered Americans. Lost souls in a strange place is a favored theme in Anderson’s films, although the strange place is usually a fantastical creation of insanely detailed set and production design, whether it be the nonexistent Manhattan of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) or the strange undersea world of The Life Aquatic. In The Darjeeling Limited, India offers an already existing “strange world,” one that becomes increasingly familiar as the film goes on, to the point that it seems like home by the end.

The titular train offers a perfectly regimented enclosed space for Anderson’s dramatics, another of his favored approaches. Keeping the characters in close quarters forces them to deal with each other, while the space itself becomes its own character, which is perhaps why the film gets somewhat lost when the brothers get off for an extended period of time and encounter a real tragedy, which is ultimately the catalyst for their emotional healing. That the brothers eventually shake off the baggage of their past by literally chucking the treasured Louis Vuitton-style luggage passed down to them by their father is simultaneously inspired and almost groan-worthy in its obviousness, which is a good way of describing the film as a whole. While it is has flashes of inspiration and suggests that Anderson wants to break out of the mold he has fashioned for himself, The Darjeeling Limited is ultimately too familiar and too obvious a fabrication to suggest that he can move beyond his previous accomplishments rather than trying to ape them.

The Darjeeling Limit Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
The Darjeeling Limited is also available from The Criterion Collection in a two-disc DVD set (SRP $39.95).
Aspect Ratio2.40:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Hotel Chevalier short film
  • Audio commentary by director Wes Anderson and cowriters Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola
  • Behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman
  • Discussion between Anderson and filmmaker James Ivory
  • Anderson’s American Express commercial
  • On-set footage shot by Coppola and actor Waris Ahluwalia
  • Video essay by critic Matt Zoller Seitz
  • Audition footage
  • Deleted and alternate scenes
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Stills galleries from James Hamilton, Laura Wilson, and Sylvia Plachy
  • Insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateOctober 12, 2010

    Criterion’s new high-definition digital transfer, which was created from the 2K digital intermediate files scanned from the original 35mm camera negative, was supervised and approved by director Wes Anderson. No surprise that the resulting image, which is virtually first-generation given the source, is absolutely gorgeous--a significant improvement over the previously available DVD from Fox. The wide variety of colors, from the dusty oranges of the desert, to the electric blue of the train itself, are positively radiant, and the fine detail highlights even the smallest nuances of the film’s crammed production design. Flesh tones look natural, and the image is effectively sharp and well-defined without looking digital. The original theatrical multichannel soundtrack, which features music from such disparate sources as the Rolling Stones and Satyajit Ray, has been transferred to a 5.1-channel DTS-HD mix and optimized for home theater via Pro Tools HD with outstanding results.
    As with Criterion’s previous releases of Wes Anderson films, no stone is left unturned in their special edition of The Darjeeling Limited, which makes it a worthwhile replacement for Fox’s mostly supplement-free 2008 DVD. It includes the 12-minute short film Hotel Chevalier, which plays as a prologue to The Darjeeling Limited; it can be viewed either separately or together with the film. Both films include audio commentary by cowriter/director Wes Anderson and cowriters Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, all of whom were recorded in a single session that provides for plenty of reflection about the film’s production. Criterion has also produced a 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman that eschews talking heads and narration in favor of simple, unadorned footage of the film’s production in India, a complex endeavor that more than speaks for itself (it also gives us a richer, more realistic portrait of India than the film does). The same is true of a brief bit of footage shot by Coppola during the writing process and 10 short segments shot by actor Waris Ahluwalia during production. There is also an 18-minute discussion between Anderson and filmmaker James Ivory in a Parisian restaurant about Anderson’s use of music in the film, virtually all of which came from Ivory’s films or the films of Satyajit Ray (there are clips from several of their films scattered throughout the interview). A more academic take on the film is presented in a 12-minute video essay by critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who calls the film “Anderson’s 2001” in that it summarizes everything he is about as a filmmaker. Finally, the disc includes Anderson’s infamous American Express commercial, audition footage, a brief deleted scene and two alternate takes on scenes in the film, stills galleries from James Hamilton, Laura Wilson, and Sylvia Plachy, and the original theatrical trailer. The fold-out insert features an essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson (natch).

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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