Film Review: The Darjeeling Limited

Tell me, Mr Anderson, why I keep doing this to myself, why do I return to your films, believing that this time it will be different, that this time you will entertain rather than confuse? The answer, Mr Anderson, is because, this time you have delivered, you’ve given me the film I have been waiting for.

I wrote in my review of Rushmore, that every time I return to the films of Wes Anderson in some masochistic belief that I enjoy them, that I’m a fan of his work and yet every time I come out the other side unconvinced by the film on offer – everything seems to end up as 6/10 – before falling back into the trap and being lured to the next offering. Bottle Rocket lead to The Royal Tenenbaums, which led to Moonrise Kingdom, taking me on to The Grand Budapest Hotel before a stop off with Rushmore which tempted me into the position I am now – The Darjeeling Limited.

However, unlike everything that went before it, everything that just left me cold, I have found my film. I have finally found what I’ve been looking for. Anderson once again takes the Director’s chair for himself and is happy to share writing duties, a trait that flows through his films, and one that I’ve cited before as a potential reason for my hit and miss relationship with his work, but this time around it all comes together to produce a film of such simplistic quality that it is a joy to behold.

Wes Anderson

The most noticeable aspect of this film is that everything: the tone, the style, the imagery feels matured, grown up almost. Anderson’s other films have a real sense of slapstick, a single narrative thrown, minimalistically through over heightened situations and implausible events at a turn of pace that leaves you dizzy, confused and for me, not often laughing. But all that is gone here. Suddenly, our singularly focal point is turned completely on its head. Rather than the camera moving around one point – Zero in Grand Budapest, Max Fischer in Rushmore – this time we are presented with 3 focal point characters that move around the static camera producing a style that feels jagged and sharp and yet somehow narratively perfect.

The Darjeeling Limited also doesn’t rely heavily on comedy, there are fleeting moments of laughter but this film doesn’t rely on it as the only vehicle to lighten the mood and provide relief and rest bite. Instead it simply jumps to the next character when it feels it needs a new direction. And it’s those main characters, that both compliment and conflict with each other with such friction-less motion you totally buy into them and the message they being used to propagate, that make this film so easy to watch and become absorbed into.

I hadn’t even seen the trailer when I pressed play last night. I wanted to go in knowing as little as possible, I wanted to give Wes Anderson a clean slate and a fresh chance. I wanted to reconnect. And like I said at the start it worked perfectly. Without any preconceived ideas of what to expect, of what it is about, I was able to draw my own conclusions and take my own thoughts and ideas from the movie.

Anderson’s standard themes of materialism, class divide and arrogance; teamed with the usual helping of despair, naivety and abandonment are all there, but this time around the subtleties, the deeper messages are bought to the surface, they are given to you. This is a film about character assassination, about questioning who you are, about self discovery. For me, the use of the 3 main characters, the focal points each with their own personalities, are actually the splitting up of one person, you.

The Darjeeling Limited - Screengrab

The static camera acts as your eyes. Reinforcing the idea that you view the movie as if through your own eyes, being shown the different ways you can handle a situation before asking you how you combine the reactions, to form your journey, to find who you really are. Nathan Lee of The Village Voice described his take on the film as “Darjeeling is a movie about people trapped in themselves and what it takes to get free — a movie, quite literally, about letting go of your baggage.” And I couldn’t agree more.

While this movie is definitely a departure from the style and design Anderson has often returned to throughout his film career, one aspect that has carried over, thankfully, is Anderson’s unique use of sound. The soundtrack for the Darjeeling Limited is stunning. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s almost a work of genius. In Anderson’s timeline, this is the first film not scored by Mark Mothersbaugh, and as a result it takes a totally new direction. The original pieces, composed by Satyajit Ray fit perfectly to the backdrop of the film to a point that they feel so blended that you almost don’t notice they are there and yet, when contrast and contradiction is needed Anderson borrows from 1960s British rock, he borrows from The Kinks and The Rolling Stone.

I enjoyed The Darjeeling Limited so much, that to be honest, I almost struggle to find fault with it. You could say that it fails to really fluctuate as it progresses, that everything is laid bare and almost obvious, but that’s part of it’s charm. It’s not trying to hide everything. It wants you to explore and question yourself as much as you do it and wants to ensure you understand that.

I cannot urge you enough to give this film a watch, whether you are a Wes Anderson fan or not, whether you like his films or not, The Darjeeling Limited is such a departure from the films that have cemented his reputation and created his unique style that you cannot help but view this film from a different angle. I started this review saying how I’d finally found the Wes Anderson film I had been searching for, and I cannot stress just how true that it.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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