“We haven’t located us yet”
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is not my favorite Wes Anderson movie by any means. I had such high hopes for it after viewing his previous three films as a crescendo of precision and quality. Zissou ended up being more pretension and aimless drivel then something worth writing home about. Now, I didn’t hate the film, there is a lot to applaud him for, however, it slightly tarnished his do-no-wrong clout with me. In the years between then and now, though, we were given a highly entertaining American Express commercial and the short film Hotel Chevalier. The latter ends up becoming a prequel to The Darjeeling Limited, his fifth feature length work and film that was never really thought of until after that short was created. Anderson was to segue directly into Fantastic Mr. Fox with Henry Selick. I’m not sure if doing an animated movie directly after what to me was his first failure would have been a smart move. Thankfully we are allowed to view Darjeeling, which while not quite back to form, is a fantastic first step in getting back to where he left off with The Royal Tenenbaums.
Many themes from his oeuvre are prevalent here as assumed. Our three lead brothers are very affluent and with that is the baggage of delicate psyches and daddy issues. Said father has died the year before and ever since an incident that stays fresh in their minds on the way to the funeral, namely their mother’s absence from it, seems to have fractured their relationship with each other. Having not been in contact for that year, older brother Francis, acting as a mother figure for the others, much to their dislike, has taken it upon himself to orchestrate a spiritual journey through India to heal their bond together as well as the personal troubles haunting them all. As much for a catharsis after his attempted suicide by motorcycle, Francis is unaware of his brother Peter’s impending fatherhood and fears of it as well as brother Jack’s need to be loved, even if that lover is the one that scorned him. Sharing a predilection for drugs to numb their suffering, as you can see stereotypical spoiled rich kids doing, they set off on their trek complete with trust issues and brotherly quarrels based upon the smallest infractions.
Where Darjeeling truly succeeds for me is the way it has pared down the tale to include just these three characters. As far as Anderson’s canon goes, his character base has increased exponentially with each inclusion. Here, though, while we do get a few periphery roles, (with effective cameos by Bill Murray, Amara Karan, a great turn from Waris Ahluwalia, director Barbet Schroeder, and of course Kumar Pallana—whose absence from Zissou could possibly be its kiss of death), this story only works as far as Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman as Francis, Peter, and Jack respectively take it. Unsurprisingly, these three are at the top of their game.
Wilson, bandaged for the duration is at his finest as an actor. He must show nuance here and a buried streak of depression with the need for love by his brothers. I guess I couldn’t go this entire review without mention of his recent real-life suicide attempt. While the comparison is an easy one, I believe it might also be true. No, he did not help write this one with friend Anderson, but either way, his mentality in life, I’m sure, helped develop the realistic portrayal of those same feelings on screen. Brody does well as the more macho of the threesome. Usually playing the nice guy hero in his work, it was nice to see him take a role that is a bit of a prick. He is the least of the group to open up and his standoffishness works well to build on his eventual evolution following the Deus ex Machina. With Schwartzman, we are given greatness as usual. I really don’t think the guy can do wrong. Maybe the most pathetic of our leads, he is also the most realistic. With both his parents now absent from his life, he is in dire need for someone to care for him. Whether it the beautiful stewardess on the train, or his undying bond with his ex-girlfriend, he cannot be alone.
The script is smart and witty throughout, something that was missing for large chunks of Zissou. Our leads are charismatic and a good trio working off each other successfully. Unfortunately, Anderson needs an event to happen for these men to finally see the light on how they’ve been wasting their life. This moment left me distracted and confused. Not confused by what happened, but by how I felt about it. While on the one hand that event was crucial for everything that happens after it, on the other it is so random and profound that it jarred me from the world that had encompassed me so fully up until that point. I just felt it was lazy writing, not to mention a total waste of Irrfan Khan’s many talents. Thankfully the sequence is followed by a wonderful flashback to that day of their father’s funeral. This is a moment that is truly wonderful and helps explain everyone’s motivations and how their love for their missing father has led them down the path they find themselves at present.
Aesthetically, Anderson has gone above and beyond once again. Each frame is jam-packed with detail and faux reality. I mean, to have every paper product from Wilson’s character include his business’ logo and letterhead shows the amount of time and precision Anderson takes to make his films complete worlds. His train cars viewable from the outside are wonderful as well; much like Zissou’s halved ship, we are able to see inside them seamlessly while it moves along its track. In what is almost a dream sequence showing all the characters that have touch our leads’ lives to that point and where they are right that moment, it is a nice bookmark on that chapter in their progression. It is the final sequence of the brothers racing to make their train that becomes the perfect conclusion. Finally able to let go of their emotional baggage, we wonder if they will be able to make it. It leaves us with hope for the future and not a shred of indifference, for we took the journey with them and hope all will be ok.
 L-R: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Photo Credit: James Hamilton
 Angelica Houston in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Photo Credit: James Hamilton
 Amara Karan in THE DARJEELING LIMITED.