The Darjeeling Limited, Blu-ray (2007/2010)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Angelica Houston
Studio: Fox/The Criterion Collection 540 [10/12/10]
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic/enhanced 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Extras: Transfer supervised by Wes Anderson, Short film “Hotel Chevalier” prefaces the feature, Commentary track with Anderson and his two co-writers, Behind-the-Scenes documentary, Anderson and James Ivory discuss the music in the film, On-set footage, Anderson’s American Express commercial, Audition footage, Deleted scenes, Alternate scenes, Stills gallery, Theatrical trailer, Printed booklet with essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson.
Length: 91 minutes
Perhaps all restorations for Blu-ray should be done by the film’s director as this one was. The image quality of the extreme letterboxed widescreen is perfect and the visual beauty of India comes across gloriously during what is in effect an Indian road trip movie, only it’s on a train. Anderson likes to play around with family tensions and dysfunctions, but this one does it better than did “The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou,” and in a more interesting environment than his “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Three estranged brothers in their 30s from a wealthy family have not spoken to one another in the year since the funeral of their father who was struck down by a NYC taxicab. Their mother has exiled herself to an Indian monastery where she is a nun. The oldest brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), convinces the other two into joining him for a spiritually-seeking journey in India. Peter’s wife is about to have a baby and Jack – a novelist – has been living recently in a luxury hotel in Paris, separated from his girlfriend. (The opening short film covers Jack’s situation but is not vital to understanding of the feature.) Francis is so controlling that he has an assistant travel with him (in another car of the train) to handle things such as the provision of daily laminated detailed itineraries which are slipped under the door of their room each morning. The plot is evidently that Francis has secretly hired a detective who found his mother in India and the real purpose of the journey is to go visit her (even though she doesn’t want them), but Anderson fails to make that clear in the film.
The three fill out their respective parts well of satirizing vacuous, materialistic American tourists at large. They are hooked on cigarettes, liquor, pain-killers and cough syrups of all sorts, and Jack gets fascinated with an Indian merchant’s pepper spray – ending up spraying his brothers with it when things get a bit violent between them. He also wastes no time getting into the sari of their cute train attendant. Peter buys a dangerous poisonous snake and it escapes on the train. This, combined with the drug episodes, results in the trio being thrown off the train in the midst of a desert. Accompanying them on all their adventures is their mountain of custom Louis Vuitton luggage (hand-decorated by a relative of Anderson’s) as well as the symbolic mental/emotional luggage weighing them down. By the way, Francis’s head is thoroughly bandaged in a frightful fashion due to a motorcycle accident he has just had.
The film is basically in the comedy category but certainly not like most Hollywood comedies. One running gag refers to the punctuality of the Indian railways, which is evidently preserved from the British Raj. Both at the opening and near the end are scenes with the trio arriving at the ticket office just as their train is already leaving and they must run (in slow motion) to barely leap aboard the last car. Another passenger who doesn’t quite make it is played by Bill Murray (in a non-speaking part).
From the desert scene onwards, the carefully-planned sojourn of the brothers takes a different tack. They become involved in saving some Indian boys drowning crossing a rampaging river. The brush with death and its effect on the trio adds a deeper quality to this film than Anderson’s previous efforts. The entire cast of actors is outstanding, and the native Indian actors are also perfect. The stern train conductor is played by an Indian friend of Anderson’s. For the music track Anderson used themes from Satyajit Ray’s Indian films as well as some Kinks tracks. I was sometimes reminded of Jean Renoir’s gorgeous “The River,” and the New Yorker writer of the essay in the printed booklet calls “The Darjeeling Limited” a sort of cross between that classic and John Cassavete’s “Husbands.” The many bonus features – as standard with Criterion reissues – are well worth exploration.
— John Sunier