The Criterion Collection’s love affair with Wes Anderson continues with some gusto this month, as we welcome yet another enchanting curio from his filmography onto the prestige home entertainment label. ‘The Darjeeling Limited’s’ addition to the collection is now the seventh film of his to be given the Criterion treatment in the UK. This will no doubt grate with his detractors, but for his fans it is another chance to splash the cash on yet another delightful release.
The film could almost be described as Anderson in his comfort zone, yet again dealing with the complicated dynamics of a dysfunctional upper middle-class family. In this case, the Whitman brothers. Three morose, disaffected, prescription drug addled men, who are mourning the loss of their father, and trying to find some contentment with their lives. However, he brings something different to the visual style, it’s more kinetic and vibrant than his previous films, though still distinctly un film de Wes Anderson.
The oldest brother Francis (Owen Wilson) has recently suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident, that may or may not have been intentional. He arranges to be reunited with his two brothers who haven’t all been together since their father’s funeral a year earlier. The reunion is in India, where Francis has planned a spiritual journey to reconnect with themselves and each other. This journey will take place on a cross country rail trip, on a luxury train called The Darjeeling Limited.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) the youngest Whitman brother has recently been left heartbroken, and Peter (Adrien Brody) is struggling with the responsibility of soon becoming a father himself. In a terrific visual gag, the three brothers all carry their father’s old monogrammed luggage with them. Huge, cumbersome bags and cases, hardly the sort of thing you’d take on a trip of self-discovery. It is their literal emotional baggage as they embark on this colourful odyssey of grief and pain.
As with all Wes Anderson films, The Darjeeling Limited is a richly textured piece, full of wonderful little character beats and grace notes. Francis wants this spiritual awakening to be an adventure, but he can’t not be in control of everything, so he has brought his assistant with him to plan their daily itinerary, which is laminated and delivered to their cabin every morning. Peter is struggling with migraines, but it’s later revealed that he has taken to wearing his father’s old prescription sunglasses which are straining his eyes.
The way in which the film talks about grief—without every really talking about it—is extremely moving. Their father’s passing has unmoored this entire family. Anderson’s deliciously dry script (co-written with Schwartzman and Roman Coppola) and the three terrific central performances tap into this in ways that are both uproariously funny and deeply melancholic. The scene where Francis removes his bandages might be the most emotional and touching sequence Anderson has ever filmed.
‘The Darjeeling Limited’ is a strange film, obeying its own unique internal structure and rhythms. The second half of the film in particular (like the train itself) takes some unexpected turns. “How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.” And for a brief moment it might seem like that the film has got lost, only for a long flashback to tie everything together, and remind you that this most meticulous of directors never goes off the rails.
Beautifully restored for this release, the disc comes with a host of special features. First up is the short film Hotel Chevalier, a prologue/prequel to The Darjeeling Limited, starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman. You can watch this on its own or integrated into the film. There is also a feature length audio commentary track with Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.
Next up is a 40-minute behind the scenes documentary directed by Barry Braverman. Filmed in a fly-on-the-wall style, the film takes us through various location set ups, and reveals that even with an artist as fussy as Anderson, when it comes to filmmaking on location, everything is chaotic. There’s also a conversation between Anderson and James Ivory, where they discuss the film’s music. Much of the score was taken from Merchant Ivory films.
Film critic and Wes Anderson expert Matt Zoller Seitz provides a visual essay about the film. There’s also the American Express commercial directed by Anderson, which includes some of the Darjeeling cast. Also included is the audition tape for one of the boys they encounter in the village.
The Oakley Friedberg/Packer speech is a show and tell speech made by the son of two crew members from the film. Having spent months in India with his parents as they made the film, he recounts to his classmates some of the work they did giving back to local communities.
There is a deleted scene of Peter playing cricket with some kids, and a couple of alternate takes. Roman Coppola provides another short behind the scenes clip, as does actor Waris Ahluwalia who shot a series of video journals whilst the film was being made. These include insights as to what the train shoot was like, and also a look at the film’s special effects, revealing the magic of filmmaking in all its glory with this hilarious look at the lo-fi effects used to make it seem as if the train was moving.
Finally, there is a photo gallery, the film’s theatrical trailer, and the booklet comes with an essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Anderson.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Waris Ahluwalia Director: Wes Anderson Writer:Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 91 mins Release Date: 26th April 2021