There are ample supplements here to provide hours of entertainment. Best of all is the short film, Hotel Chevalier, which acts as Part 1 to The Darjeeling Limited and stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman.
The colorful, oversaturated, sometimes high-contrast look of the film is preserved and despite some occasional softness, The Darjeeling Limited looks solid in this Blu-ray transfer. Detail is rather strong and grain structure is maintained nicely throughout the film.
It is strange to think, but important to remember, that the films of Satyajit Ray, so very much admired by Wes Anderson and many of us in America and Europe, are less popular in India, where many people prefer musical spectacles in cinema: India, with its native, Dravidian, and Aryan roots; its sacred writing, its sense of equality and fairness; and its long cultivation of crafts and culture—India with its caste system and its duplicities and its poverty. How has India’s material world been able to grow so recklessly in light of its established spiritual traditions? Hinduism is a very old religion native to India, the land of the Indus river, its beginnings older than written history; and Hindu mythology is full of gods, magical beings, and heroes, inspiring literature and the arts. Buddhism and Jainism came later (the person we referred to as Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born almost three thousand years ago). Buddha thought human life full of suffering, and that suffering was caused by attachment to the world and its things—with peace coming through the necessary forfeiting of that mundane attachment, with the pursuit of a more accepting, balanced, and thoughtful perspective, purpose, and practice. The spiritual traditions of the east have been as limited as the spiritual traditions of the west in creating a paradise on earth. The world’s financial, military, and political powers, of course, do not wait for our individual enlightenment or communal development. Thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great, there was Greek influence on India in art and science. Yet, after more military changes in power, Hindu priests—the Brahmin class—became of greater influence in the social order, bringing with the prominence of the Brahmin class a lasting caste system; although, with time, Hinduism would be influenced by aspects of Buddhism. The Muslims would come too, a thousand years after the death of Christ; and the Mongols, led by Tamerlane, in 1398. The Mogul (or Mughal) dynasty, founded by Baber in 1526, is considered a high point of Indian culture (the Taj Mahal was built by that dynasty). European colonialism would reign, beginning in the seventeenth century, and not ending until the mid-twentieth century, with national independence attained thanks to men such as Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and the popular revolt of the Indian people. Indian cinema has a long, rich history, during and after colonialism—but popular cinema has meant the pleasures of entertainment, with its celebrations of beauty and romance and wealth, more than the serious considerations of art.
Genius is the creativity of hard work—choosing what, why, and how you want to do something, then having the discipline and commitment to do it, and doing it with energy, imagination, and thought, accomplishing one’s purpose with a depth, range, and vision of excellence and singularity. Jean Renoir and Satyajit Ray had that genius. The director of the films Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), The Lower Depths (1936), Grand Illusion (1937), The Rules of the Game (1939), The Southerner (1945), and The Golden Coach (1953), the filmmaker Jean Renoir (1894-1979) is one of the legendary men of cinema, someone from whom a wide range of artists draw inspiration. Jean Renoir, the son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, had a sense of complexity and of truth; and while Jean Renoir sometimes depicted the middle and upper classes in his films he did that without false admiration or pretension: he was more likely to offer critique or satire. The great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) made about twenty-nine feature films, not counting documentaries or short films: Satyajit Ray was the maker of —Pather Panchali or Song of the Little Road (1955); Aparajito or The Unvanquished (1956); and Apur Sansar or The World of Apu (1959): a series of films about the youth, education, and marriage of a poor Bengali boy. Satyajit Ray made, also, other favorites: The Music Room or Jalsaghar (1958), about an aging, nostalgic landowner; Devi (1961), about Hindu beliefs; and The Big City or Mahanagar (1963), about the liberation of a young woman who finds necessary work and a sense of freedom. Pauline Kael thought Satyajit Ray a natural filmmaker, someone whose work contained a lot of love for what and whom he photographed. Akira Kurosawa said that not seeing Satyajit Ray’s films was like not seeing the sun and moon. Both Renoir and Ray have a grasp of a certain fundamental human dimension—the feeling beneath looks and gestures—in addition to the beauty of their photography or the drama of their scenarios. The odd thing is that Wes Anderson’s technique is so formidable some people miss the fact that there is a lot of complicated—contrary, deep, vexing—feeling in his work.
D.G. Phalke made a feature film of a Mahabharata story, King Kharischandra (1913), India’s first feature motion picture, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies (2012) assembled and written by Annette Kuhn and Guy Westwell. The Indian film industry in the early twentieth century—the 1920s—began to make very many films, many of them popular, of both mythology and contemporary dramas. The Light of the World (1931) by Ardeshir Irani was the first sound film made in the country. The many languages of India found a place in film, but Hindi-language musicals drew the largest audiences. The Indian desire for independence was represented in film, too; and Italian neorealist films had an influence, as did developing film societies, and government support. Some Indian films of note can be located with a little further research: Do Bigha Zamin, or Two-thirds of an Acre (1953); Mother India (1957); Pyaasa, or Thirsty (1957); Meghe Dhaka Tara, or The Cloud-Capped Star (1960); Jaane Bhi Do Yarro, or Just Let It Go, Friends (1983); English, August (1994); Lagaan or Land Tax (2001); and The Great Indian Butterfly (2010). The Indian film industry remains vast and successful, but films such as that of Satyajit Ray are an acquired taste—as are those of Jean Renoir and Wes Anderson.
Wes Anderson has the taste for the films of Jean Renoir and Satyajit Ray—but that does not mean that Anderson will imitate them in every regard. One learns—and pursues one’s own purpose. The Darjeeling Limited is a Wes Anderson film, not a Satyajit Ray film. A short but appreciative review in Film Empire, a British magazine, by the writer Angie Errigo at the time of the film’s 2007 release had two succinct paragraphs that are worth repeating, for the fact that Errigo watched the film with attention and found its actual content and meaning (while alluding to reports of actor Owen Wilson’s personal misery and ill health):
Wes Anderson’s aesthetic is one of fine detail and quiet, sensitive moments, and the drama in his work is based on eccentric personality, emotion, and intelligent thought; and the intricacy of Anderson’s vision—the attention given to the way everything looks, to the minutest aspects of form and the relationships among persons and objects and environment, with each image containing layers and textures—is quite usual for miniature works, but his stories expand with many characters and locations and situations. Wes Anderson’s films are not small, though they may seem so at first glance. Wes Anderson’s short film Bottle Rocket (1994) became a feature film of the same name two years later, Bottle Rocket (1996), and was followed by the much acclaimed Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Hotel Chevalier (2007), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The Darjeeling Limited has the atmosphere of a lark, of a digressive adventure, one in which insight is gained.
In Wes Anderson’s 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited three Americans visit India, and one goal is enlightenment. The Darjeeling Limited is probably not a film for everyone; it does not seem now—but there is so much in it that one hopes that one day it will be a film for everyone. It is an intelligent, lovely, unique film, focusing on three characters, three estranged brothers, who are believable for their temperament, for their idiosyncratic ways of being in the world. Their trip to India is itself not hard to imagine—life is full of such seekers. Written by Wes Anderson with Roman Coppola and one of the film’s lead actors, Jason Schwartzman, The Darjeeling Limited is a strange pleasure, full of shifting sights and tones; and the film, with production design by Mark Friedberg, was filmed by Robert Yeoman, and edited by Andrew Weisblum. In the film, Jason Schwartzman is Jack Whitman, Owen Wilson is Francis Whitman, and Adrien Brody is Peter Whitman, three young American men, brothers of privilege and some personal pain. Their father has died, and they have been abandoned by their mother; and the brothers have not been together since their father’s funeral a year before. One suspects, from certain comments, that the brothers have loved their parents but have not been particularly close to them (the older brother claims that he, Francis, has been responsible, partly, for rearing the three of them—Francis is well-intentioned but tightly controlling, with worries all his own). During their trip in India, the brothers visit shrines with established spiritual prestige, but much of their travel is taken up with the contentions among the three, and with rather mundane distractions. That inconstant and indirect seeking of enlightenment is part of what makes the endeavor convincing.
The film The Darjeeling Limited begins with Peter running to catch the train, which has left the station: Peter (Adrien Brody) is able to hoist himself onto the moving train, leaving an older suited man, who had been running as well to catch it, on the platform. The three brothers, Peter, Jack, and Francis, meet on the train that gives the film its title: the decorations on the old-fashioned train are hand-made, with little designs of animals, portraits, and scenes. The face of one brother—Francis (Owen Wilson)—is bandaged, after a motorcycle accident: it is a visual expression of his pain. The film is about the trip, which Francis intends as a chance for the brothers to bond, and, also, as a spiritual journey. Should a smart young man with money be able to will himself into enlightenment and love? How many of us have thought we could do that; or still think it? The brothers’ father has died, their mother is gone, and they have divided up their father’s beautiful luggage between them, Louis Vuitton luggage designed by Marc Jacobs—the most attractive and expensive baggage. One of the brothers, Peter (Brody), finds other things—eye glasses, shaving razor—of their father that Peter absorbs into his own life, suggesting memory, grief, and entitlement. Peter borrows some of Francis’s things without asking, too. The brothers are too close and not close enough; boundaries have been crossed, and are crossed, and there is distrust and pain and resentment. Some of the resentment regards the older brother Francis’s authority, or the keeping of secrets by Peter, or the revelation of family secrets by Jack (Jason Schwartzman) in his biographical fictions. The trip is not as simple as it could or should be: Francis on the train has an assistant, Brendan (Wally Wolodarsky), who is helping with the itinerary and getting supplies. Jack is attracted to a female train server, Rita (Amara Karan). One brother, Peter, is expecting a baby with his wife Alice (Camilla Ruther) and nervous about it; and he is using the trip as an escape from responsibility. The young men have intelligence and some sensitivity, but they lack maturity. They—western, educated, bourgeois and oddly fragile—do not know yet what they could or should be responsible for, and what they must leave to others, or to chance.
The Darjeeling Limited is classic Wes Anderson — quick, quirky, and in a world all its own. This Criterion Collection release brings the film together with the “part one” short, Hotel Chevalier, to complete the package, and offers them up in solid, director supervised and approved 1080p high definition transfers. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s films, then you need to get this release.