Darjeeling Limited has a short film, Hotel Chevalier that acts as a prequel to the movie. It introduces Jack. His ex-lover visits him unexpectedly, at a hotel room in France. It sets the foundation for Darjeeling, and develops Jack’s character.
Darjeeling opens with a businessman in India. He is lost in a foreign culture, racing to catch his train as it pulls out of its station. He is beaten to the train by Peter Whitman, who is reuniting with his two brothers, whom he hasn’t seen since their father’s funeral a year before.
None of the brother trust each other. They are paranoid of being betrayed by each other, and wary of sharing to much personal information with each other. They are all very secretive, and often split into factions.
None of the brothers have yet recovered from their father’s unexpected death. Their mother hadn’t gone to the funeral, which they also missed. They lack closure.
Francis, the oldest brother, has invited them on a journey for spiritual self-discovery. He meets Peter and Jack covered in bandages, telling him that he was in a car crash. His brothers do not believe him, and become increasingly annoyed with his controlling behavior, which is a trait inherited from their mother.
Francis is reminiscent of Owen Wilson’s earlier role, Dignan, in Bottle Rocket. He is afraid that factions between his brothers will leave him isolated. He likes being in control, and treats them like children. Like Dignan, who had a 75-year plan, his meticulous itinerary for the trip doesn’t follow its schedule.
Each of the brothers are at a turning point in their life. Francis is recovering from his car crash. Peter is expecting a child. Jack is reconnecting with ex. They are hoping, though not actually expecting, for their journey to help them find the direction they want their life to go.
At one point their train stops. They learn that, “The train is lost.” Someone even goes far enough to say, “We haven’t located us yet.” Francis takes this as an obvious symbol that their “train of life” is lost for each of them, and to succeed, they must each have a spiritual epiphany.
Halfway through their journey, they are forcibly removed off of the train after a poisonous cobra escapes, and they get into a fight over which brother was their father’s favorite son. On their way back to civilization, they see three boys fall into a river. Jack and Francis rescue two of the boys. Peter, who is expecting the birth of his own child, fails to save the third. He is deeply affected.
This scene is comparable to the other eye-opening scenes in Anderson’s films. It awakens the watcher, who beforehand, had become lost in the fantasy world. It reminds that reality is harsh and has unexpected consequences.
After leaving the children’s village, they decide to go visit their mother, who is staying at a nunnery in India, even though she asked them not to come. Before searching for her, the brother’s freshen up in the bathroom at the airport.
Francis, takes off his bandages. He was hoping that their spiritual journey had healed his wounds- both his emotional and physical injuries. It hadn’t.
“I guess I still got some more healing to do,” he says
“You’re getting there,” Peter replies.
Their reunion with their mother is emotional, and they find that they accept and forgive her faults. In this realization, they also embrace who they are, and each other.
Throughout the film, the three brothers search for spiritual release. It is only when they weren’t searching for enlightenment that they found it.
In the last sequence of the film, they drop all of their suitcases to make it onto their train, a scene reminiscent of the opening. The suitcases represent their fears and stresses. They are now free of them. They have outgrown them as human beings.
Darjeeling was influenced by the movies of Satyajit Ray, the first master Indian filmmaker. He is well known for refusing to make most of his films in any language other than Bengali. He considered script-writing to be an important part of direction, and used actors from diverse backgrounds. He is most celebrated for his use of children actors. His work has been described as full deceptivelysimplic, with a deep underlying complexity.
In Darjeeling there is a sequence like that of the tour of the Belafonte in Life Aquatic. In the guise of a train, each character, wherever they are, are traveling to a new place in their life. It reintroduces us to minor characters, such as Bill Murray’s earlier businessman, and major characters, such as the Indian hostess from the train.
Darjeeling Limited is the Anderson movie that I’ve never understood. I’ve watched it multiple times, but never truly been able to untangle it. It is beautifully filmed in an amazingly beautiful country, and I believe that it has an important message, but it is a message that doesn’t reach me.