Tuesday, 13 May 2008

On DVD: The Darjeeling Limited - Review by Emma J. Lennox

Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriter: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Running Time: 91 mins
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

Powder pinks, blues and yellow illuminate the dusty landscapes in Wes Anderson’s peculiar but pretty portrait of India in his travelling tale The Darjeeling Limited. The train is an intricately decorated beast which interweaves urban chaos, rural heat and three men’s psyches on its mystical tour. As it comes to a halt momentarily in an unfamiliar desert, amidst camels and dunes, the driver pours over a map. “The train is lost” the American passengers are told “how can the train be lost?” asks Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) “it’s on rails.”

But veering off course is just what’s needed for the three brothers; Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody) and Jack, who, meeting for the first time since their father’s funeral, are in various states of angst and anxiety. Francis’ agony is visible; his head is wrapped in comical bandages which makes great use of Wilson’s angular face -still imprinted with the character that a fist brings to a nose. The mournful Peter is helped by Brody’s lanky limbed physicality. Running for the train like a galloping giraffe, Brody lifts our spirits and propels the locomotive, the tracking camera and the narrative in his great bounding steps. With soulful eyes he is also the most empathetic character; a passive passenger of grief in contrast to his brothers, who are hammering at their souls with pseudo religion and sex.

Jack for all his sexual adventure is the least afflicted, more cunning and devious than his brothers, he is all the sharper for it. Not a coincidence then, that he is an aspiring writer who’s narcissistic and unravelling stories, as seen in the short precursor to the film, Hotel Chevalier, are a parody of nihilistic ineptitude. Schwartzman is credited as a co-writer alongside Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola and the three privileged indie kids render a tale of three privileged men, humorously out of their depths, descending into bickering childhood rivalries. The dialogue in particular undercuts any saccharine thoughts of romantic adventure. “Wouldn't it be great if we heard a train go by in the distance?” asks Jack as they share the warmth of a camp fire. “Not really” replies Peter, “It’d probably be annoying” adds Francis.

The cultural awakening never quite happens for the Whitmans who remain foreigners in a strange country. India is photographed like a Beatles inspired dreamscape of strawberry fields in an exotic haze. The colours are bright, the clothes are crisp and in the glaring heat nobody breaks into an unsightly sweat. But to argue that this is not the real India is like complaining The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) isn't set in the real New York. These are Anderson’s carefully crafted visions, with beautiful art direction and set creations. The DVD documentary explores this further with production designer Mark Friedberg. His detailed tour through the built for purpose and functioning train keeps the bubble of the film intact, and even deepens our appreciation through each hand painted, individually crafted piece of set.

In its most joyous moments, the Darjeeling Limited train shudders with exuberance and excitement like a bouncing carousel for the brothers' broken bodies. In this unreal spectacle, our imagination is free to roam and discover what Anderson is really getting at; not the unknown mysteries of the universe, but the vulnerability of our interdependent characters.

Extras include:
Hotel Chevalier – short film by Wes Anderson starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, prologue to The Darjeeling Limited (12 mins) 'Making of’ featurette (30 mins)

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