I find it almost pointless to attempt to describe and review “The Darjeeling Limited” because the best way to describe any element of the film would be by saying it is a Wes Anderson movie. What does it look like? It looks like Wes Anderson shot it. Is it funny? That would depend on whether you thought Wes Anderson movies were funny. What’s it about? I have no idea.
Does it sound like I don’t like this movie? Film criticism is about describing the reaction you personally had as a viewer and about how you changed upon coming out of it. I can sadly report however that I had little to no reaction to it. The seemingly pointless irreverence of the film is well made, quirky and atmospheric, but it bounced off me as though there were nothing to gain from the experience.
It tells the story of three oddball brothers who come together for the first time in a year since their father’s funeral to ride the Darjeeling Limited train and explore India for an enlightening experience.
Peter, Jack and Francis (Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson) each have their own series of quirks and traits that actually paint a vivid tapestry of character development within the context of the film but do little outside of it. There is nothing much to compare and relate to in the characters’ actions, and the same is true for the supporting cast. Take the similar series of oddballs in Anderson’s own “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” and the peculiarities of a few characters do wonders because they exist in an equally estranged world that fits their personalities. The brothers of “The Darjeeling Limited” are out of place in the rest of this movie, and the film feels empty because it is content on sticking with them.
And yet I cannot fault the film for being somewhat brilliant in light of its own context. I was surprised at how self aware and clever the film was in creating a remarkably symmetrical and tidy narrative despite what seems like incoherent and mindless messing about for the rest of the film. There is a more dramatic moment in which the brothers dive into some river rapids to rescue three drowning kids, and the back story that comes from this is one of the perfectly choreographed and executed highlights of the film.
The truth is I’ve never been fully receptive to any of Anderson’s films. I’ll have to revisit it, but I may have had the same reaction to “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a film some consider is the best film of the last decade. I think something like “The Life Aquatic” is simply inherently funny, whereas there is an understated mood and air to “The Darjeeling Limited” that for me only works in sparing doses.
The moments of brilliance and moments of pretension blended throughout the film simply left me cold. I can’t say whether I loved it or hated it, and you may find the answer to be both.