Monday 15 January 2018

The Darjeeling Limited (USA 2007: Dir Wes Anderson)

Another of my FEAST Film Nights viewing notes.

For those unfamiliar with the idiosyncratic films of Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited is as good a place to start as any – his movies all share a unique vision, mixing the mundane with the bizarre, featuring odd characters in odd situations in even odder landscapes – and once you’ve seen one, you’ll immediately recognise his work. Confusingly, one should start before The Darjeeling Limited with a short prologue to the movie, Hotel Chevalier, which may or may not be showing tonight: don’t worry if it isn’t, I’m just being pedantic.

The story of The Darjeeling Limited centres on three brothers - Jack, the youngest, the bandaged and bruised (and very bossy) Francis, and clothing kleptomaniac Peter - who re-unite following the accidental death of their father a year previously, and decide to take a spiritual journey across India by train, hoping to reconnect with each other. That the brothers are a fairly dysfunctional bunch, made worse by their states of mourning, means that their plans, originally carefully planned by Francis and monitored by his seen but not often heard accomplice Brendan, fall apart quite spectacularly. But when they’re thrown off the train on which they’ve been travelling they are properly introduced to a country outside of their sphere of experience, a country which is now home to the reason for their trip.

The Darjeeling Limited is not a film obsessed with plot – it is instead a quirky, ruminative and free-wheeling study of three men caught up in their own depression, struggling to hold themselves together as a family, as well as finding out what ‘family’ means. It’s also a lot of fun, with the brothers bumbling along, sometimes strung out on Indian prescription drugs, constantly bickering while trying to makes sense of their own grief and the country they find themselves in. Anderson isn’t afraid to take us to some dark places, but the combination of humour, occasional slapstick and pathos is delicately balanced, recalling at times the silent comedies of Buster Keaton with added mysticism.

But the real star is India itself. Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Yeoman perfectly captures the majestic sweep of the country, and his colour palette is hugely effective whether it’s depicting the glow of sunset or the garish colours of The Darjeeling Limited, the train on which the brothers travel.

There are layers of symbolism in The Darjeeling Limited which have been endlessly pondered over by fans and critics in the same way that the films of the Coen Brothers are carefully dissected. What do the feathers mean? Who is the Bill Murray character? What’s a tiger doing on a train? Who knows? Just enjoy it.

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