Harry Riedl is a film enthusiast from West London and this continues a series of retrospective reviews on his favourite cult classics.
The Darjeeling Limited is quite a tricky film to pigeonhole. Firstly, it’s a Wes Anderson movie. For those unaware, that means it’s a quirky comedy with a large amount of pathos and misery (Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic are two previous movies which abide by this ethos). Bill Murray will inevitably feature. Secondly, it has the look and feel of travelogue movies of new and old and as someone who particularly loves India, this was always a movie I was intrigued by.
The first thing you’ll notice is a little opening movie called Hotel Chevalier, a short little film with Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman playing two old lovers. They meet up in a very nice French Hotel (to the backing music of mid 60s crooner Peter Sarstedt) where they argue in a very restrained manner before sleeping with each other. This links directly to the rest of the movie and provides a revealing reflection on the effect of a damaged family upbringing on relationships through life.
The film cuts to Bill Murray in an Indian cab, rushing to catch a train whilst being driven in a very animated manner. Personally, I would call it crazy, but that’s how everyone drives in India. In an attempt to catch a train in Northern India, you notice Adrian Brody running with him and overtaking. After following him through the interior of the train and seeing the various different classes (from benches in 3rd class to a/c rooms in sleeper first) we are introduced to the brothers, Peter (Adrian Brody) Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman). We discover from their conversations that this is the first time they have met since their dad died when he was run over in New York. We also find out that each is hiding something from the other brothers. This familiar family tension is nicely shown as each does his best not to offend the other. Each character has his fears, which are expressed by each brother as the movie progresses.
The movie has a lovely travelogue feel as they explore Northern India and see the dusty, hot but staggeringly pretty scenery as the tensions between the brothers increase. Action changes the pace of the movie into one of personal discovery, particularly after the brothers are booted off the train.
This is another movie with a fantastic 60’s soundtrack. Artists such as The Kinks and classic Bollywood tunes capture the atmosphere perfectly and supplement the visual feast on screen. After a surprising change in pace, the characters soften and you can see redemption in these damaged people. It’s the mildest sign of a spiritual journey just without the flowers and feathers.
At one point, they are invited into a funeral and the comparison with their father’s shockingly unpleasant funeral creates a great contrast, as this poor family possesses nothing compared to what they hold. Their father’s funeral is a great black comedy moment of the movie as everything goes wrong.
The movie changes again into self-discovery by finding their mother to see if she has answers to their questions. Her character is the closest to the villain of the piece as she is both evasive and single-minded. The brother are angry at her lack of care for them and after meeting her they understand how they became who they are but unified in their care of each other.
The film represents Northern India and the joys of rail travel in the subcontinent. Stylistically, it’s very Indian and nothing looks out of place except for the brothers, which is of course intentional. It also has a really tactile feel which movies on big sets so often lack. The huge amount of extras gives a surprisingly big budget feel and makes everything look right.
All of this is done fantastically, as well as tying a black comedy with characters with real depth. It’s got a kooky independent charm and you’ve got to feel Wes Anderson could do this sort of thing in his sleep.
Article written by Harry Riedl