I finally watched The Darjeeling Limited yesterday. It was from our Netflix queue. Phillip wasn’t interested in watching it, so I watched it alone.
I loved this film – with a qualification.
The Darjeeling Limited was directed and co-written by Wes Anderson. I loved his other films – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenebaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and so on – and I love the quirkiness he weaves into his stories.
With The Darjeeling Limited, however, the quirkiness was distracting. It was even irritating. Maybe I didn’t get it. Maybe the point will sink in with repeat viewings. (I dropped the DVD into the mail box this morning.)
The movie opens with a man in a business suit, played by Bill Murray. He’s in the back of a taxi cab, in a crowded Indian city. He’s in a hurry, and the taxi driver is doing a great job weaving through the chaotic traffic.
The taxi stops in front of a train station. The man in the business suit runs into the station, runs up to the ticket office and says that’s his train leaving right now.
Next, the man in the business suit is running down the platform, carrying a suitcase or two, trying to catch up with the train, which is slowly pulling away. He’s passed by another man, played by Adrien Brody, who is also running down the platform, with suitcases in his arms. The faster man catches the train, which is named The Darjeeling Limited. The man in the business suit is left behind on the station.
The man played by Adrien Brody finds his berth. It’s occupied by two other men, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman. Through the conversation that follows, we learn that the three men are brothers, and that their father died suddenly a year earlier. Francis, the brother played by Owen Wilson, has his head wrapped in bandages – the result, we learn, of a motorcycle crash. Francis arranged this train trip because he was concerned that the three brothers had grown apart, and he intended the trip to be a bonding moment and a “spiritual quest”.
For the first half-hour, at least, I kept waiting to see how the man in the business suit fit into the story. Was he a fourth brother, or a family friend? But we never find out. We never even find out who he is. He didn’t seem to be involved in the story at all. Why, then, was he the focus of the film’s beginning? I found it distracting.
Why was the man in the business suit there? I really do want to know.
Toward the end of the film, there’s a group meditation with a wonderfully creative montage of all the people the brothers met along their journey, plus people important to the brothers’ lives – and the man in the business suit. He’s had no interaction with the brothers, except being seen at a train station, he hasn’t been seen since the train station, so why were they seeing him in their meditation?
There are also some odd jumps in time that I found jarring. In a small Indian village, the brothers are invited to the funeral of a young boy. There’s a beautiful, slow motion tracking shot of the brothers walking through the funeral arrangements. They get into an auto rickshaw. Just as the auto rickshaw begins to move, the film jumps to the middle of a sentence spoken by one of the brothers. They’re in a limousine with an unidentified woman. They’re dressed in dark suits. Francis has no bandages on his head, and he has no scars. It’s filmed at normal speed. The cut is so abrupt that I rewound the DVD slowly, to make sure it hadn’t skipped a chapter, or something.
There’s a scene where the brothers arrive at a small airport, on their way home. While they’re waiting for their flight, the brothers go into the bathroom to clean up. Francis suddenly asks his brother for his scissors. While the other two brothers watch in shock, Francis cuts his bandages off. In the next scene, the brothers are walking out to the airplane. Francis is wearing his bandages again. Were those two scenes in correct chronological order? Did they happen on the same day? Did Francis have some spare bandages on him, and was able to replace the ones he cut off? Or what?
But I really did like The Darjeeling Limited. It was a beautiful, fun, road trip with gorgeous images of India. The characters were well-written and interesting. I liked the quirkiness. I just felt the quirky bits were too much in the foreground and took away from my enjoyment of the story.
There was one quirky touch that I especially enjoyed. Before The Darjeeling Limited, there was a 13-minute short film, also written and directed by Wes Anderson, named Hotel Chevalier. The DVD menu gave me a choice of watching them together or individually. I chose to watch them together. I’m glad I did.
Hotel Chevalier is sub-titled “Part 1”. It’s the story of a man named Jack who has been living in a Paris hotel for at least several months. He’s surprised by a visit by his girlfriend (played by Natalie Portman). Apparently, he’s been hiding from her. She ends up spending the night. It’s not much of a plot – it’s a character study. I enjoyed it.
The Darjeeling Limited is sub-titled “Part 2”. We soon learn that Jack is one of the three brothers. The Paris hotel and the girlfriend come up in conversation several times. It’s possible to enjoy The Darjeeling Limited without having seen Hotel Chevalier. However, there is a running gag in The Darjeeling Limited that ties the two films together. Jack is a writer. Whenever he shows one of his brothers a short story he’s working on the brother will praise his memory of events of his ability to capture a person’s essence, and Jack will angrily insist that his stories are pure fiction. I doubt I would have gotten the gag’s punchline without having seen Hotel Chevalier beforehand.