One of the great parts of studying Literature in university is that one is exposed to so much literature we would otherwise not seek out by ourselves. Last year, I did a course on Indian literature, where we studied some wonderfully notable Indian writers. However, one really stood out to me – R.K. Narayan, who wrote stories that were both universally appealing, but also took a hard look at Indian society and the nature of life within India in the time period. Always lighthearted and sweet, his stories were wonderfully unique. As Roger Ebert pointed it, it seems only fitting that Wes Anderson, one of the very best directors working today, made a film that would fit in perfectly with Narayan’s oeuvre. The Darjeeling Limited isn’t only a great film – it is a perfect film, and safely within the top ten greatest films of the 21st century.
The film is wonderfully simple – three brothers, oldest Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson), Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody) and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) embark on a spiritual journey around India on the titular train, and they encounter a variety of adventures and set out on some wonderfully strange quests, in the hopes of both reaching enlightenment, and growing closer as brothers. Each of the three brothers come with their own baggage – Francis has recently undergone massive injury after having driven his motorcycle into the side of a hill. Peter is dealing with the fact that his wife that he has been wanting to divorce is pregnant with their first child. Jack is forlorn over a lost lover that he last saw in Paris. Each find themselves dealing with the problems of being painfully human, and having to deal with emotions that are real, raw and often very hit very close to home with audiences. These three men are not extraordinarily special, nor are they entirely likable – but they are so well-written, and so fully characterized, they are completely believable. Wes Anderson has a true talent for writing characters that are not artificial, and are true reflections on humanity, and The Darjeeling Limited is his best film yet, for many reasons.
The performances from the three leads are absolutely mesmerizing. Adrien Brody is quiet and brooding as the conflicted and angry middle brother who does not quite know where his life is headed. Brody has a true talent for quietly powerful performances, and he uses his talents as a dramatic actor very well here. Owen Wilson, who has not always made the best choices in his cinematic career, clearly made the right choice twenty years ago to collaborate with his young friend Wes on an indie film called Bottle Rocket. Since then, he has starred in all but one of Wes Anderson’s films, and has been fantastic in all of them. However, it is his arrogant performance as Francis here that is truly Wilson’s finest hour, and he imbues the character with such humanity, it is easy to forget his previous career choices, and his choices since then. Jason Schwartzman, who is a fantastic actor and probably my favorite actor out of the bunch, really shines as the shy and insecure youngest brother, who is hopelessly in love with a woman who does not feel the same way, and he expresses himself and his own angst through short stories obviously based on the adventures and experiences of his older brothers and he. I suspect that anyone who grew up with siblings will relate to this film in some way – I personally connected to it, as I grew up with two brothers as well, and I am sure everyone can see themselves in one of these brothers, even if it is only at the primordial level, and I could clearly see some of my own personality reflected within oldest brother Francis. It is this ability to truly understand human nature, and to accurately capture emotion that makes Wes Anderson’s films so wonderful and genuine. A special mention must go to the wonderful Anjelica Huston, who is truly wonderful in her small role as the boys’ nun mother.
The journey of these three brothers is one of great entertainment, because there is something about how Anderson approaches the story. I have never been to India, but I do know many people who have, and one of the aspects of this film that makes it so wonderful is how it accurately captures India. Much like R.K. Narayan, Anderson never once falls to relying on stereotype or preconceived notions of India. There aren’t any blatant stereotypes, or inappropriate renditions of what the Western world believes it is like to be Indian. Rather, Anderson approaches the subject of a journey across India as being what it truly is – unique, mystical and mesmerizing. He doesn’t make it appear like India occupies a completely different world, but rather is what it actually is – a beautiful and dazzlingly wonderful part of our world. The understanding Anderson has for Indian culture is truly fantastic, and proves himself to be a filmmaker of the world, someone who can make frank and honest depictions of societies that are often stigmatized with preconceived notions and stereotypes.
Wes Anderson is one of the few filmmakers that uses music so well, it becomes as important to the film as his visual flair is. This film most definitely has Anderson’s best use of music – from the opening scene where Adrien Brody runs after the train, accompanied by The Kinks’ “This Time Tomorrow” (one of the greatest songs ever written), to the ending moment where the train drives off into the distance set to Joe Dassin’s timeless and quaint “Champs-Élysées”, and everything in between, Anderson shows considerable talent for selecting music and using it perfectly within his films. The Darjeeling Limited has an amazing soundtrack, and that is quite simply one of the best aspects of the film. Another is the gorgeous and breathtakingly wonderful cinematography by Robert Yeoman, who captures the majesty and grandeur of India, from the urban areas all the way to the Himalayas. This film is a fully immersive experience – the acting is great, the music is wonderful, it looks beautiful and it leaves you feeling refreshed and exhilarated, which is exactly what a great film should do.
The Darjeeling Limited is one of my favorite films ever, and even on this, which was probably my fifth rewatch, it is sweet, refreshing and beautiful. It puts the audience into an instantly good mood, and it is quite simply superb. It is a great film, and a film that I think will entertain nearly everyone. It is a perfect example of why independent cinema is important, and why Wes Anderson may be the best filmmaker of his generation. I love this film, and I hope anyone who seeks it out will love it too.