Like most of Wes Anderson’s films — particularly his two previous efforts — “The Darjeeling Limited” deals with the themes of regret and second chances, as told through the story of a family gone awry. His characters’ best years are often behind them, but they’re determined to turn around their fall from grace. Too bad they tend to be so shortsighted.
In “The Darjeeling Limited,” we’re introduced to Francis, Peter, and Jack Whitman, who reunite in India a year after their father’s funeral. They haven’t spoken to each other during that time, but Francis has arranged for them to embark on a spiritual trip that’s supposed to culminate in a meeting with their estranged mother, complete with daily itineraries produced daily by his assistant, Brendan. Their journey across the country falls apart after a brawl gets them thrown off the train — the Darjeeling Limited — and they wind up inadvertently receiving the spiritual experience that no amount of laminated itineraries were able to grant them before.
The question is, do they understand the lesson? I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.
While the film exhibits many of the hallmarks of Anderson’s work, I came away from this one feeling like something was missing. The worlds and characters of his previous films were fleshed out, but the Whitmans and their history is more like a sketch than a full-blown painting. And that’s a shame, because I think there was more of a story to tell here. Unfortunately, the needless flashback that happens about two-thirds of the way through doesn’t impart anything we don’t know already, at least nothing important to the story.
Don’t get me wrong: “The Darjeeling Limited” isn’t a bad film. There’s plenty to like about it. It just didn’t hit me over the head the way “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” did. Such is the curse of a successful writer/director whose new films come with high expectations. It’s similar to the high bar that Pixar has set for itself.
“The Darjeeling Limited” is preceded by a 13-minute short called “The Hotel Chevalier,” which gives us some background on what Jack Whitman and his girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, were doing in France before Jack headed for India. (She shows up for a brief cameo toward the end of “The Darjeeling Limited.”) It’s a nice character piece, but it’s not required viewing to understand anything about the movie.
This DVD also includes the movie’s trailer, along with “The Darjeeling Limited Walking Tour,” which runs 21 minutes and gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at Anderson at work, interspersed with production designer Mark Friedberg’s tour of the train that was created for the film. The handmade craftsmanship that went into it was amazing. It really shows you the difference between our country and India, where people are willing to spend hundreds of hours hand-painting elephants that will never be seen close-up during the movie. In America, someone would have hunted down elephant wallpaper and called it a day.
Unfortunately, that’s it for this disc. The featurette alludes to a scene that was obviously cut from the film, so there must be extra material lying around for the inevitable Criterion Collection edition.