Travel Movie Review: The Darjeeling Limited

There’s a moment in the new Wes Anderson movie, The Darjeeling Limited, where an Indian dining car waitress asks Jason Schwartzman’s character, Jack, “What’s wrong with you?”

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“I honestly don’t know,” he says. “I’ll tell you the next time I see you.”

That single line could serve as a summary for Wes Anderson’s entire film catalogue to date. Though his films are novel, quirky, artistic, interesting and original in the extreme, they all seem to follow the same storyline: “oddball doesn’t fit in with general society due to family complications, and embarks on spiritual quest to discover self.”

The Darjeeling Limited

In Bottle Rocket, Anthony and Dignan spent time in a sanitorium and prison, respectively, bookending a lame crime spree that allows them to eventually move on with life. In Rushmore, Max seeks to overcome his inability to fit in by being hyper-organized and committed to everything, before having a breakdown that, eventually allows him to be comfortable in his own skin. In Royal Tenebaums, an entire family of over-achievers seeks to overcome the emotional vacuum left by their fraudulent father, only to eventually find middle ground. And in The Life Aquatic, a successful diving film director wallows in a mid-life crisis until an open sea adventure helps him find meaning in life.

See what I’m saying? The same film, over and over.

Now, granted, they’re good films. Smart, funny, well written and directed, but you can only tell the same story so many times before people start filling in the blanks. When the characters in Darjeeling Limited (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) make it clear that they don’t like their lives and have emotional baggage involving their parents, you can almost feel the audience mouthing the words along with them.

The premise is such: Jack, Francis and Peter are on a train called The Darjeeling Limited as it rolls through India. Two of the brothers have no idea why they’re there, but the rich and successful Francis has called them together ”˜to bond’ and ”˜find themselves’, and lacking anything better to do, they willingly make the journey.

Francis has an assistant elsewhere on the train churning out a daily schedule that involves temples and cities and landmarks and events of interest, but Francis also has an unspoken plans that involves the trip ending with the trio’s estranged mother”¦ if they ever make it that far.

With all concerned indulging in Indian painkillers, alcohol, exotic animals, and stilted emotions by the truckload, it soon becomes clear that we’re dealing with an Asian drug journey ”¦ let’s call it Fear and Laos’ing in India.

The stars of the show, in reality, aren’t the stars of this show. The Indian landscape is incredible, and the most interesting characters in the film are Rita (breathtaking newly-minted English actress Amara Karan) and The Chief Steward (Life Aquatic bit player Maris Ahuwalia), a pair of train company employees who have their own life crisis to contend with ”¦ and the three Americans ain’t helping. Theirs are the deepest, most empathetic characters in the film — which is no easy task when you consider the caliber of actor on offer for just about every other part. With Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, Angelica Huston and a host of Indian Bollywood players joining the big three, there’s plenty of talent on show, but it’s the small roles (like that played by Indian legend Irfan Khan, an Indian villager dealing with a recently-lost son) that make this film one worth experiencing.

To be sure, if you’ve ever had the notion that a trip to India might be something worth striving for, this film will only reinforce that idea. Once you get past the slow pacing (made all the slower by virtue of Anderson’s tendency to rely on the slow-mo shot), the stilting dialogue (such being Anderson’s style of writing) and the soundtrack made up almost entirely of existing soundtrack pieces from Merchant Ivory films and Bollywood classics, at the very least you have to say The Darjeeling Limited is an experience worth taking.

Even if it is the fifth time some of us have undertaken it.

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