A Risky Venture: The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson is not a stranger to disappointment, his first film was met with disappointing criticisms during preview screenings, but managed to find acclaim from the final cut. The films that preceded The Darjeeling Limited, aside from The Royal Tenenbaums, were also disappointments in their ability to create financial profit. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was the first time Anderson has failed to produce a film that did not meet critical success; and to makes things worse, it was far from reaching equilibrium in its budget to profit ratio. This must have affected Anderson deeply, possibly causing him to contemplate about himself and the direction of his career. Through that trauma, what manifested was The Darjeeling Limited.

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This film is arguably Anderson’s deepest and most serious film. Comedy is certainly still found in its atmosphere but it never overwhelms the characters or its story, which was the case for his previous and subsequent films. In this film, Anderson shifts himself back from where he was during the production of Steve Zissou, spending more time with the film’s characters and their journey rather than obsessing over the fabrication of intricate sets and quirky influences. There is a sense of humanity given to his characters, something that has been clouded in his previous films, aside from maybe The Royal Tenenbaums; but then again both films feature similar characteristics but just under different circumstances. This emphasised layer in The Darjeeling Limited is both the film’s greatest strength and weakness. The film certainly benefits from this added emotional and psychological layering to his characters, especially since they now fit well with the natural world that the film is set on, but the lack of eccentricities prevent the film from being such an entertaining ride; The Royal Tenenbaums balanced emotion and quirkiness with a sense of grace, while The Grand Budapest Hotel leans more towards the latter and provides an audience a sense of escapism and comedic entertainment that only certain directors are able to achieve, notably Terry Gilliam. I do respect Anderson for tackling human drama and grounding it to a natural and deep level, but I felt he went a little too far off his natural groove, leaving us with something that is only half-effective.

The Darjeeling Limited, once again, tackles the idea of family but this time the father-son dysfunctional dynamic has been omitted and instead replaces it with sibling rivalry and disconnection. Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, the screenwriters of the film, take something as clichéd as the dysfunction between siblings but does something different to them; everything that one would expect between siblings are found in these characters but they do not prominently rise to the surface and instead what we have there is grief, pain and loneliness. These are brothers who have shared the same loss, but driven and shaped by different personalities, therefore each one handles situations and ideas differently, making each one distinctive. This film is without a doubt, Anderson’s most obvious film, with its first thirty minutes providing exposition of its characters and establishing the motifs that their journey would be exploring. I did not entirely mind its pushy and heavy handed dialogue as it did make it easier for me to find an attachment for the three characters, but since it’s so different from Anderson’s usual dialogue, it did at some moments take me out of the immersive experience.

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Spirituality is the film’s driving premise. It is about three brothers who have embarked on a spiritual journey through India, and along the way plans have been made to find their long-lost mother who may or may not want to see them. These three brothers have agreed, but were reluctant, to go on this spiritual exploration as their recent loss of their father have crippled them physically and emotionally, leaving them with a sense of grief. This grief is handled differently with each brother, and though the other displays a calmer attitude towards it, it still shows that sadness still fills their eyes when it comes to mind. The abandonment of their mother is also an issue that have lingered with them ever since her departure, and since then they still haven’t gain a sense of closure. Through their pain and suffering, they have decided to part ways as a family and living their lives with physical and emotional distance from one another. This purpose of this journey is to find spiritual and emotional healing, hoping that it would not only give them the peace they have been longing to gain, but also to patch up the severed bonds that occurred after their father’s funeral. Using the itinerary as a guide to their journey, the film demonstrates through the character’s struggles, the necessity of intimacy and individuality in a journey like this. Spirituality could only be found if one has the correct mindset to earn this sense of enlightenment, and during their spiritual pit stops, they are constantly distracted by their instinctive nature to purchase materials and goods as a way of masking their personal troubles, but then they find themselves guilty and therefore they attend these spiritual sites and perform rituals as they believe that is how one finds the essence of spirituality. The idea of spirituality being confided by a set of instructions are an example of ignorance, as what they do not know is that spirituality could be found in any shape or form, it simply depends on what gives an individual that sense of peace and happiness.

The name Robert Yeoman has been long affiliated with Wes Anderson that it would be difficult for me to think of an Anderson production without him. Yeoman has developed a strong comradery with his director, that he is able to anticipate the necessities that is needed to fulfil that overall vision; Anderson is a very detailed and eccentric director and if under the hands of another director of photography and lacks an understanding of his work ethics and expectations then the film’s entire visual outlook would be a disaster. Everything that was found in Anderson’s previous films is found here once again, and it remains just as effective as it was before. Yeoman is certainly working under unfamiliar conditions with the director; primarily using locations instead of sets and like his previous film with Anderson, many of the film’s backdrops include empty natural spaces. Thankfully, even with the film’s larger scope and lack of quirky eccentrics, it still manages to create a similar to effect to what was found in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums; I wish I could say the same for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I was a little sad that Mark Mothersbaugh did not come back to do the musical score for The Darjeeling Limited, the film instead uses tracks from films produced by Merchant-Ivory or Satyajit Ray; I was even more shocked that he did not use any of the tracks from used in Ray’s The Apu trilogy, which was composed by the legendary sitar musician Ravi Shankar. What was used for the film was a strong fit with the film’s story and themes. It achieves in coming off as both being inspired and intelligent due to precise timing and tones that stay blended with one another. Though the soundtrack is primarily driven by Indian music, a balance was created through incorporating it with some western based tracks and bringing back that garage rock sound through artists like The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

The performances in this film were equally strong, but sadly it never seems to reach a level of outstanding. It was lovely to see Adrien Brody under the hands of Anderson, showing a much lighter side of him in comparison to what I have previously seen from the actor. Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman bring their usual quirky charm when under Anderson’s direction. There is really not much here to thoroughly cover in regards to the performances of its cast, as most of it is something I have seen before.

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The Darjeeling Limited is another divisive film by Wes Anderson, but like all of the director’s previous films, it grows on you with another viewing; finding further insight to his seemingly simple-structured stories. This film is certainly the director’s stab into something different and risky, but he does so without disappointing to the fans that expect to see a Wes Anderson production.

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