Anderson’s ‘Darjeeling Limited’ De-rails

You might be reaching for a handful of popcorn or peeling a Junior Mint off the inside of the box when the feature presentation finally starts. Suddenly, you and your fellow unsuspecting audience members are speeding through a crowded street in India, dodging goats, vendors and bicycles. In every direction is a hurried montage of color and movement that leaves you at once delighted and queasy. You’re not sure where the taxi is going or why Bill Murray is the passenger. There is so much to take in that you are perfectly content to worry about it later and leave whatever movie theatre snack you were attempting to indulge in abandoned at your fingertips. Welcome to the directing style of Wes Anderson.
The name Anderson might ring a bell. His previous works include such cinematic splendors as ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’ Anderson does not waste time in scooping the audience into his newest film, ‘The Darjeeling Limited,’ a world of impeccable details and overt peculiarities. Just like the opening scene, the rest of the film is wrought with quirky and vibrant details, which are all too often used as a substitute for the emotionally constipated characters. The audience may certainly take pleasure in the subtle humor and Indie-centric abstractness, but for the most part, the film lacks the tension to drive a story equal to that of its visuals and cinematography.
‘Darjeeling’ draws upon Anderson’s previous films both in style and in cast. Actors Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody play Francis, Jack and Peter, respectively. Together they are the estranged Whitman brothers, who embark on an Indian train in search of enlightenment, unity and their elusive mother, played by Anjelica Houston. The unexpected brings the brothers together and the more poignant details of their lives become exposed to one another. The audience soon learns of Francis’ motorcycle accident, of Jack’s recent breakup, of Peter’s soon-to-be-fatherhood and their mourning for the death of their father. The film starts off with an unraveling plot that is both intriguing and endearing but may have the audience later wishing that it had delved a little deeper emotionally and tied up loose ends.
The Whitman brothers bring with them a discombobulated assortment of valuables, both junky and sentimental. Their cramped compartment, filled with a hodge-podge of items that range from $3,000 loafers to a real live cobra, symbolizes the accumulation of emotional baggage and intrapersonal disjointedness. Anderson uses these material items, and the subsequent attachment to them, to develop the characters of the trio; a tactic that can only go so far. Between the wry dialogue and fast-paced aesthetics that is typical Anderson, the viewer may find themselves longing for their ADHD medication in order to pick up the pieces of the plot that have not been addressed.
In spite of these storytelling setbacks, Anderson does a fantastic job selecting the music for the film, which is artfully incorporated by Schwartzman playing music from his iPod stereo to be heard by all. Particularly amusing was his selection of Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ during one of the more reflective scenes, an element which managed to bridge the gap between audience and actors.
Although the costumes did not always fit the characters’ personalities, they did provide an interesting juxtaposition against the colorful silk and chiffon prints of the Indian attire around them, and maybe suggest the privileged upbringing of the Whitman brothers.
The eventual release of the brothers’ material extremities may seem cathartic but beyond that the characters remain unchanged. It seems unlikely that their newly found fraternal feelings will endure for very long. With a lighthearted tone in the face of the many recurring themes of death, the supposed soul-searching of the Whitman brothers that takes up the 91 minutes of the film seems superficial at best.
While devoted Anderson fans and newbies alike may be slightly disappointed by the film, it does not fail to entertain and exposes a culture that is exotic, unfamiliar and without a doubt a visual feast. Be warned, however, that when the closing credits, you might ask yourself, ‘What exactly just happened?’ and wonder if there are any Junior Mints or popcorn left over.