India has long held a magical fascination within Western culture, likely an antidote, concrete or imagined, to the primacy of materialism and individualism, and the subsequent American soul in isolation from itself and its surrounding world. Wes Anderson’s tragicomic dysfunctional family road movie The Darjeeling Limited, contemplates that particular altered state of mystical mind, warts and all, in an East meets West culture clash that let’s say, rather than escaping conveniently into the typical Hollywood happy ending, calls it a transcendental draw.
Storytelling conventions also take a tumble, with Anderson conceding to narrative whims as the cinematic journey from NYC to bucolic India breezes along. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman are three adult brothers who’ve never resolved their sibling rivalry issues, especially when it comes to their recently deceased dad and who has the most claim to the cool shades and shaving razor he left behind. And it seems that Mom (Anjelica Huston) has a midlife identity crisis situation of her own, and has gone off and disappeared into the remote foothills of the Himalayas to reincarnate as Sister Patricia Whitman if you please, at a countryside Catholic mission.
Wilson as the bossy elder of the incessantly brawling tribe has lured his younger brothers to India under the guise of a vacation jaunt, when it’s really to find Mom and coax her to come home. When the contentious trio is tossed off the Darjeeling Limited train headed out that way, for bad behavior, the brothers are basically stranded and forced to leave behind lots of baggage they carry, in more ways than one.
As they venture into the increasingly isolated terrain and peasant villages after making a brave bid to save some boys drowning in a river, the brothers go native among the country folk, with a transformative, enlightened understanding of the concept of brotherhood in its broadest manifestations. Eventually they meet up with Mom, begin the collective process of healing old emotional wounds from childhood through blissing out to the musical backdrop of the Stones’ plaintive ‘Playing With Fire,’ and essentially get in touch with their divine if still somewhat goofy inner mystics.
A reverie unraveling in raw life with even its own mandatory Parisian prequel short film in tow – Hotel Chevalier – The Darjeeling Limited is as unique and fanciful as can be. Whether it’s making hasty symbolic pit stops for lusty quickies with objectified hotties of desire that later morph into tender, infatuated fantasies laced with love; a railway car that never lacks for a refreshing thirst quencher delivered by the luscious sweet-lime lady on board; or Bill Murray popping up out of nowhere as an irate tourist who just can’t seem to catch that train, no matter how fast he runs. OK, Natalie Portman as Jack’s irritating obsession needs to cut down on the flesh-flashing routine in movies and go in for roles with more personality and clothing. But Wilson, Schwartzman and Brody couldn’t be better as these wacky siblings who may not be able to stand each other, but certainly can’t make it through life without one another. Ignite that incense.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
3 out of 4 stars