Film Reviews

THE DARJEELING LIMITED

By • Oct 26th, 2007 •

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It’s a movie about luggage.

I just got back from 3 weeks camping in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I have a lot of movies to catch up on. This means 2 movies a day and I’ll still be behind not seeing the really awful ones that I usually see anyway.

But first a word of advice: Don’t go to Rwanda! They don’t like white people there. I found out why and maybe they have a good reason. They still resent the Europeans for colonizing them (and the Germans for making their women sex slaves).* They never asked for it. And they are still pissed off that white folks didn’t help with the genocide of ten years ago that slaughtered 1 million people in 100 days. I learned all this at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum.

Every day 60 white folks come into Rwanda specifically to visit the mountain gorillas and the local people get none of the revenue. The hostility was obvious.

Since I lived long ago in Munghr, Bihar, India studying Kriya Yoga at an ashram and considering renunciation (we all did back then), I was eager to see Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited.”

But first, there is a 13-minute short film titled HOTEL CHEVALIER, about a young man, Jack (Jason Schwartzman), lounging around a fabulous Paris hotel room. His ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) comes to visit him. Portman, who refused to bare any flesh as a stripper for respected director Mike Nichols, shows off more nudity here than the script required. This little film looks like a reenactment from Anderson’s personal life. How vain and self-centered is this? Most of us are taking photos or digital movies as personal mementos. Anderson makes us watch HOTEL CHEVALIER. It’s his way of getting even with someone.

I’m all for helping out deserving relatives, but THE DARJEELING LIMITED is a selfish project designed for the sole purpose of taking Anderson’s friends on an all-expense paid vacation to India and getting a complete, vulgar set of custom luggage designed by Louis Vuitton’s artistic director Marc Jacobs.** Every piece is painted with little animals and a palm tree drawn by the director’s brother, Eric Chase Anderson. Anderson’s mother supervised the catering, his father handled security, and another brother held a walkie-talkie.

If you loved RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, stay clear of DARJEELING. It will stain your love.

Francis (Owen Wilson), cocooned in bandages and bragging endlessly about his wealth, has gathered his two younger brothers, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), for a spiritual quest to reunite them and visit their mother (Anjelica Huston), who has escaped after the death of their father to India, where she has taken on the visage of a mother-superior-slash-sainted-lady.

Jack is formless, indulgent and not very likeable. Peter’s girlfriend is having a baby in 6 weeks and he could care less. Francis is domineering. No wonder their mother ran off without even sending a forwarding address.

Bringing along a bald, flunky-boy-slash-assistant, Francis has reserved two first class sleeper cars on the Darjeeling train for himself and his brothers and has outlined a detailed itinerary marked out with holy sites along the way.

None of them really cares about family bonding or spiritual enlightenment.

Given that Schwartzman co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson and Roman Coppola (Wes gave Roman a vacation and job as well), Jack immediately has sex with the train’s Indian stewardess, Rita (Amara Karan). That’s two sex scenes for Schwartzman, none for Wilson and Brody.

This “comedy without laughs” veers in a weird direction when the brothers try to rescue some boys on a fast-moving river and one of the boys drowns. Huh? Well, that sure killed the festivities!

But it is the 20 pieces of luggage, prominent in every scene, which dominates the film. Whatever it is meant to represent – I know, I know, its family baggage you carry around – when push comes to shove and the brothers need to hightail it home, they throw away every piece of luggage.


* The Germans claimed Rwanda as a part of German East Africa from 1890. The Belgians occupied Rwanda without opposition in 1916, and the League of Nations created Ruanda-Urundi as a Belgian mandate in 1923.

** Each piece of luggage was put up for auction benefiting UNICEF healthcare programs, as well as the Rawal Mallinathji Foundation, a medical treatment charity in India, where the movie was filmed.

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