All the berths of the Darjeeling Limited are occupied as it makes its way across India; sharing an air conditioned first class sleeper car are three brothers, Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman, the first time they have seen each other since their father’s funeral a year before, Francis having recently been in a serious car accident and wishing to bond with his brothers as they experience a “spiritual journey” together.
The brothers frustratingly micro-managed by Francis who has a daily itinerary printed and laminated, Jack becomes infatuated with Rita, one of the train stewards, using her to help get his ex-girlfriend out of his thoughts, while Peter’s belongings contain numerous items which belonged to their father which Francis feels should have been distributed more fairly, nor has his assistant been able to contact their long absent mother, now living as a nun in the Himalayas.
The fifth feature film directed by Wes Anderson, his first three saw him share a screenplay credit with Owen Wilson, who here plays heavily bandaged eldest brother Francis; instead The Darjeeling Limited was written in collaboration with Roman Coppola and another frequent collaborator, Jason Schwartzman, who plays youngest brother Jack, a novelist who writes thinly veiled stories of his family, while Adrien Brody is Peter and Anjelica Huston briefly appears as matriarch Patricia to warn of a dangerous tiger.
The rich colour scheme, eccentric characters and meandering narrative associated with Anderson all present, on the new Criterion Blu-ray edition in his video essay Chaos and Control critic Matt Zoller Seitz suggests that The Darjeeling Limited is the epitome of Anderson’s work, but while this may be true it is also Anderson at his least disciplined, allowing himself to become as self-indulgent as the three Whitman brothers, answerable to nothing but his own sense of whimsy.
Anderson’s major breakthrough coming with The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001 where a broken family came together following the announcement by the estranged patriarch of his terminal illness, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou of 2004 saw that explorer’s presumed son seeking the father he had never known, Anderson re-examining the same themes of family and abandonment a third consecutive time in 2007 with The Darjeeling Limited but fortunately moving onto radically new pastures for his next film, the field inhabited by Fantastic Mr Fox.
The new edition featuring a commentary with Anderson, Coppola and Schwartzman, Anderson’s short film prologue Hotel Chevalier starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as the elusive ex-girlfriend is also included, as is a conversation in Parisian restaurant with Anderson and his friend James Ivory, discussing the intersection of their films through music, behind the scenes footage and photographs and deleted and alternate scenes.
The Darjeeling Limited is available on Blu-ray from Criterion now