Sunday, November 4, 2007

Darjeeling is not just a tea anymore

In true Wes Anderson fashion, The Darjeeling Limited has an array of dysfunctional characters, a lot of dry, witty humor and of course, those slow motion scenes that tug at the heart strings.

The film follows the three Whitman brothers who have not spoken in a year since their father's untimely funeral. Owen Wilson portrays the eldest brother, Francis who for a lack of better words, is a control freak. He brings together Peter and Jack, played by Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman. Peter holds onto the past by carrying around trinkets from his father's life, such as a pair of sunglasses that still have the prescription in them as well as an old razor. Jack has not been back in America since his father's death. He has lived in France and has had a tumultuous break up with his girlfriend, which is showcased in Hotel Chevalier, a 13 minute prequel that was shown before the main feature. The three set out on an adventure of spiritual self fulfillment on a train in India, aptly named the Darjeeling Limited. Francis hires an assistant who sets up their itineraries every day, with printer and laminating machine in tail.

Being the control freak that he is, Francis has to have everything settled and ready to go whenever he wants it to. He eagerly orders meals for his estranged brothers, who comply without hesitation, until it becomes too much to handle and arguments and fistfights become the only way to handle it. Francis is also injured, having crashed on his motorbike and was actually dead for a minute before those who found him brought him back to life. This leaves him with bandages around his face for most of the film.

Peter is torn over the feelings he has towards a new child entering his life. His wife, Alice is six weeks away from giving birth and Peter has taken off to road trip it with his siblings in a foreign country. His future fatherhood is a secret that Peter keeps from Francis, but of course tells Jack. These two remain allies against Francis throughout the film until each of their secrets spill out into the open. Another large secret is also revealed when Francis tells Peter and Jack that the biggest reason for their trip, aside from their brotherly bonding, is to visit their mother who left long ago and did not attend their father's funeral. She is now a nun living in a convent on the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains.

While the brothers remain very different in their states, they are all seemingly the same and one could tell that they were brothers by their banter, wit and characteristics. They all share an affinity for prescription drugs. In one hilarious scene, they all pass back and forth the drugs that they are taking to cure their specific ailments: heartache, anxiety, and in Francis' sake, facial wounds, numbing them to their surroundings.

Interestingly enough, through these drug addictions, sexcapades on board with a stewardess and the purchase of an illegal and very poisonous snake, the three siblings get kicked off the train in the middle of nowhere India with nothing but the clothes on their back and eleven brown leather suitcases with the initial JMW etched into them--their father's. One second the film goes from hilarity to melancholy when the Whitman's attempt to save three small Indian boys whose raft topples over in a river. Peter remains depressed after finding that his child has died. They return the children to their village and are taken in with open arms. What separated the boys to begin with, is what brings them back together in the end: a funeral.

While there are many fights over the secrets that are withheld, the chaos that ensues and the culmination of finally getting in touch with their long lost mother are what ultimately provides for the brothers to once again become bonded.

A large metaphor in the film lies behind the baggage that the boys must carry with them. Of course, each has their own emotional baggage to tend to, but in the final scene, (in the slow motioned Wes Anderson style), the three must run once again to meet their train that has departed without them. They drop their pieces of luggage, one by one, that has been a burden to them. We as the audience are to assume they have also let go of their past baggage as well and their next stop will ultimately be together.

As a big Wes Anderson fan myself, I adored this film. I found myself experiencing every range of emotion I could find in an hour and half and that is what I think Wes Anderson aims for in every film that he has made. The scenery of India was exquisitely and beautifully portrayed. The background of the Himalayan mountains, to the bareness of the open soil to the hectic marketplace atmosphere made me long for a visit. And of course, the witty road trip banter and bonds fulfilled made me want to take the trip with my own dysfunctional friends.

What the film did great, however, was to portray three seemingly different characters and embody them into one. They all had their flaws, but one main goal to attend to, which they achieve in so many different ways. A film about bonding and brotherly love also became a film of finding who each of them was individually.

In the New York Times' review of the film A.O. Scott puts in his two cents:

"Part of the pleasure of watching it comes from never knowing quite what will happen next. Not that everything that happens is pleasant. Wes Anderson’s world may be a place of wonder and caprice, but it is also a realm of melancholy and frustration, as if all the cool, exotic bric-a-brac had been amassed to compensate for a persistent feeling of emptiness. The Whitman boys may seem happy-go-lucky, but on closer inspection they don’t look very happy at all."

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