Three estranged brothers – Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) meet on a train in India – the titular Darjeeling Limited – one year after attending their father’s funeral together. As they travel across India, Francis’ need to control Peter and Jack’s lives. This manifests to the extent of providing a lengthy itinerary that he insists they adhere to, and comes to a head when he reveals his goal – for them to reunite with their estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) who currently resides in a Himalayan convent as a nun. Francis, Peter and Jack find themselves on a journey of reunification that encompasses many highs and lows.
Anderson and director of photography Robert Yeoman provide an expected kaleidoscopic portrait of India, with the usual Andersonian array of saturated colours in the interiors of the train transporting the brothers on the first part of their journey, and impressive location footage of the city of Jodhpur. The Jodhpur sequences also provide Anderson with opportunities to showcase not only the bustling street markets but also the Hindu and Sikh religions in their coverage of the brothers participating in the respective religious ceremonies. However, it is in the humour of Anderson’s script co-written with Schwartzman and Roman Coppola where the film really shines.
The interactions between the brothers sparkle onscreen, with Francis’ self-centred and domineering nature grating on Peter and Jack and the three of them getting into various scrapes onboard the train. The highlights include an escaped snake that allows Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman to engage in an array of endearing slapstick routines that owe a great deal to the Marx Brothers, and Jack’s relationship with train waitress Rita (Amara Karan). This relationship not only enables both actors to engage in convincing romantic chemistry but also provides then-newcomer Karan with a chance to show off her considerable acting skills as she effectively holds her own against the more-experienced Schwartzman.
However, Anderson takes a surprisingly serious departure from his usually whimsical style when the brothers try to save three young boys who fall into a river. The death of one of the boys despite all their efforts results in a sombre passage where the brothers take the two survivors and the body back to their home village and witness as passive observers the funeral rituals and daily life of the community. Anderson abandons his trademark style for a documentary approach that pays respect to the villagers by not engaging them in his standard whimsy, but instead taking a more respectful perspective that avoids being emotionally manipulative. This narrative detour also helps to not only prompt a flashback revealing the reason behind the brothers’ fractured relationship with their mother but also helps to place their issues in perspective.
Ultimately, The Darjeeling Limited has Anderson not only using India as an exotic backdrop to play out his usual tropes concerning dysfunctional family dynamics but also to provide cultural observations that take him outside of his comfort zone.
Available on Blu-ray now