Jack (Jason Schwartzman): How can a train be lost? It's on rails.
Film geeks from all markets can rejoice as Wes Anderson's latest opus THE DARJEELING LIMITED today enters its nationwide release.
Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a new addition to the Anderson repertory company, Adrien Brody, are brothers who haven't seen each other in the year following their father's death.
In a plan initiated by Wilson they meet up to take a train ride in India to bond and take "a spiritual journey" - also suggested by Wilson. They lug a huge amount of luggage with them on this trip - of course we get the symbolism there - baggage, right? Along the way they fight, embrace, engage in odd enforced rituals, and wonder where the Hell they are really going and what they are going to achieve. It is easy to wonder that about the film as well but Anderson's visual mastery is absorbing as usual, his soundtrack choices exquisite (including The Kinks and music from Satyajit Ray's films), and the acting superb so it's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
It is hard though, maybe impossible to not think of Owen Wilson's real-life suicide attempt when his character here had nearly killed himself by crashing his car on purpose and spends the film with his head wrapped in bandages. What makes it so difficult to separate the art from the non-fiction is his character is given practically no back story. In fact we are given so little to go on with just about everybody on the screen - Schwartzman is a published writer but of what type and is he respected or a hack?
I can't recall at all what Brody or Wilson's occupations are and the info given on their parents is pretty vague too - their Mother (played by Anjelica Huston in a quiet but effective manner) became a reclusive Nun at some point but again we are given little motivation. They seem to have an unlimited amount of fundage to back their trip and to buy expensive trinkets so maybe their family was old money - who knows? These people don't appear to have any life except what we see on the screen but maybe that's the point.
Not fully thought out narrative threads and a pungent lack of pay-offs aside this is still a worthwhile night at the movies. Anderson may be treading water in some respects but it's his own water and he stays afloat more than he sinks. The train of the films title winds down the tracks unconcerned with any existential meaning or the lack of it and that's how moviegoers should be too when they get on board.
Postnote: I didn't realize before seeing the film last night that the 13 min. prequel HOTEL CHEVALIER (reviewed on the post The Darjeeling Prequel - Now Playing On My iPod Nano 10/1/07) was going to be played before the main feature theatrically. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate the short and I admit I liked it a lot better on the big screen as opposed to my previous iPod postage stamp sized viewing. Go figure.