Inspiration is not easy to come by. And I wouldn’t have bet on it coming from the middle of India, which is where this film starts. Which part of India, I don’t know. Being an ignorant outsider, quite frankly, the people and the place all look the same to me, though I like the food. In fact, my roommate just made some dinner earlier, which was delicious. He’s actually from Nepal, but the difference in food is not that great that to a hungry Malaysian, I feel as if I am back at a mamak stall.
But I digress. A business man (played by Bill Murray) is on his way to catch the train. However, he misses it just by a few lengths. Another man, younger, faster, and leaner than he is (though not as lean as he was in his ‘The Pianist’ days) is Adrien Brody’s Peter, who runs fast enough to get him and his luggage on the train. As the train pulls off into the distance, we see Bill Murray finally stop, feeling rather exhausted. Cut to his point of view, and there, in bright yellow painting, is the name of the movie scribed across the back: The Darjeeling Limited.
What a way, then, to catch your attention, and announce the title. What a way for Peter, too, to make his arrival known to his brothers, Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Francis (Owen Wilson). They’re already on board, in their compartment, and it soon becomes clear that this is very much Francis’s idea. With both Peter and Jack having quiet feelings of discontent, Francis publicly announce that they’re there on a spiritual trip.
Spiritual though it may be, but honest, for the initial part, at least, it is not. The brothers all have secrets from each other, but it usually comes out in twos. Peter tells Jack that his wife is seven months pregnant, a fact which he doesn’t want Francis to know. Jack, on the other hand, is ready to bail out of there with a return air ticket safely tucked away in his pocket. Even Francis is not exactly forthcoming in his motives for inviting them along on this spiritual journey. Thus, throughout this journey, we are constantly treated to the brothers squabbling and fighting just like any other siblings do.
Essentially, this is, for all intents and purposes, a road movie. What a road to be on, though. “Incredible India,” screams the adverts, imploring people to come and visit the country. “Incredible attention to detail by Wes Anderson,” I would echo (sort of). It’s only in the last review that I wrote of Kung Fu Panda’s respect for the culture that it tries to portray (the Chinese culture). I wouldn’t have expected the same to happen quite so quickly, but this takes that to an even higher level. Filmed mainly in India, the filmmakers resorted to showing as much of India as possible, as well as including elements of the India’s cinematic history that will no doubt please Indian cinephiles. Homages (blatant rip off?) to Satyajit Ray, a famous Indian filmmaker from yesteryears (though maybe not famous enough for some people). We have the brothers getting mixed in with all sorts of Indian life, from Jack getting frisky with one of the stewardesses of the train, to them attending the funeral of an Indian boy.
And on this road, we have the characters who are sharply defined so as to create a bigger tension between all of them. They all have something rather quirky about them, which is no surprise, actually. It is this quirkiness that makes it all the more fun to watch this film. Their constant squabbles, arguments, and, at times, downright childish behaviour, is highly enjoyable. It is also helped by the roving camera work. The camera moves in and out and dollies left and right, ensuring that the scene has a longer shelf life by slowly revealing the people and the storylines one by one.
For example, even a small point such as the use of their deceased father’s razor is cause for an argument. “I don’t want you taking and using Dad’s stuff just like it is your stuff,” Francis tells Peter. “I don’t want you to think that you have a special relationship with him, compared to us, because you don’t. You’re not any more special than we are.” The camera then pans to reveal that Jack was also in the scene, taking special care of his moustache.
One of the antics that I find truly hilarious was when Francis got robbed of his show when a boy offered to shine it for him. His reactions, as he stands there momentarily shocked, is priceless. No doubt that it is also a daily occurence, given the reaction of those around him. I can easily imagine such a scene happening in real life. I don’t know what real life in India is actually like, but ‘Darjeeling’ certainly feels authentic in that regard.
It is unfortunate, then, the this movie is almost-inescapably tainted by Owen Wilson’s apparent attempted suicide attempt around the same time the movie was released last year. Even I can’t escape that trap, and it’s not helped that Wilson’s character, Francis, has his head in a bandage (from a motorcycle accident) for most of the movie. A pity, because there is a lot that I like about this movie. The colours are incredibly vivid, and the camera work is a pleasant change from a lot of other movies. In that regard, then, it is a fine breeding ground for those who are looking for something different. But then again, I suppose you could say the same for all of Wes Anderson’s films. Much like India, he has managed to make himself stand out beforehand from the rest of the competition.
The two of them together, then, is a potent combination.
Fikri misses cheap, greasy, oily mamak food that is easy, sumptuous, delicious…
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