The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited ★★★★

Over the years, The Darjeeling Limited has been frequently maligned as the weakest link in the Wes Anderson canon. This unexpected rewatch on a recent plane trip confirms otherwise. Why the hate, Anderson acolytes? I’ll take this over any of his previous four films—and The Life Aquatic, to boot.

In the wake of the four films that came before Darjeeling, Anderson was starting to recycle certain narrative (grief, sibling rivalries, family strife) and formal (symmetrical compositions, horizontal pans, slow motion) tropes. But like The Royal Tenenbaums, the anarchic energy of the actors plays against the familiar Anderson tics, to often hilarious and moving effect.

I suspect there might be some uneasiness with the white Orientalist / colonial vantage point. But from the jump, there’s never any doubt that these are spolied men who would upend cultural mores anywhere they chose to gather. Their pathetic attempts at spiritual healing are only more galling by setting their quest in India, where generations of narcissistic westerners have gone to cloak their egos in faux enlightenment.

Despite the three Whitman brothers’ obvious flaws, Anderson slowly connects us to their emotional pathos. The strict geometry of the train cars and Anderson’s compositions can’t contain their rich humanity. When Owen Wilson’s Francis takes the bandages off to examine his multiple head wounds and says, “I think I need a little bit longer to heal,” he’s also speaking for his brothers and for all of us who’ve ever grappled with grief.

If I had any serious criticism of the film, it’s that it was too short for such a journey—literal, emotional, or otherwise.

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