|If there is one Wes Anderson film that is rather lost amongst the other, bigger hits, even including Bottle Rocket which is at least sought out due to curiosity what with it being his first, it is 2007's The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson was a huge fan of Indian director Satyajit Ray and dreamt of making a film in his native land, so with the help of star Jason Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola, also a filmmaker, they penned a screenplay that would provide ample excuse to travel to a foreign country and experience it, not quite as tourists and not quite as workers. The results were dedicated to Ray, not that he ever saw it, having died fifteen years before the release.
But that was something he had in common with many audiences, as compared to The Grand Budapest Hotel this was a minor work if you were judging it on how many had actually watched it. Luckily for Anderson, The Criterion Collection of curated Blu-rays were big fans of his and released a number of his titles, therefore The Darjeeling Limited was rescued by them and brought to an audience of cineastes who would in all probability appreciate it, this director a very cineaste friendly talent. What was just as intriguing was the inclusion on the disc of a short film that was, if anything, yet more obscure, thanks to its association with the larger movie that accompanied its release.
This was the thirteen-minute prologue Hotel Chevalier, which starred Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (who was barely, wordlessly glimpsed in the longer feature) - you did not have to watch The Darjeeling Limited to appreciate it, and vice versa, though you imagine if you enjoyed either it would be a must to catch them both. The short gained interest, particularly among those who like to upload screengrabs to the internet, for having Portman almost completely nude in it, which there was some confusion over how happy she was about the publicity it had, though if you watched it you would understand it was not some prurient excuse for her to get her kit off, there was a reason.
She appeared unclad except for socks, and Schwartzman spent both productions fully clothed apart from socks and shoes, so you could interpret that how you will, as their characters seemed to contrast with each other, visually as well as regards their personalities. Portman was the ex-girlfriend Schwartzman was missing when he embarks on the journey across India with his screen brothers Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson, not three actors you would immediately peg as obviously related as far as visuals went, but funnily enough thanks to the tone that evoked that dreaded word "quirky", the script and direction went some way to having the viewer accept it without much protest.
The trio are in the subcontinent to pay tribute to their late father (who we never see, not in flashback or so much as a photograph), and plan to visit their mother (Anjelica Huston) who runs a spiritual retreat there and was not able to attend the funeral as we discover over the course of the peripatetic story. The benefits of a spiritual life, be that religious or following some other mystic path, makes the brothers look very George Harrison, only far less successful in attaining their inner peace as they have a tendency to bicker, break rules or otherwise sabotage the noble intentions of the trip, which have been instigated by Wilson who has recently survived a car crash that may or may not have been a suicide attempt.
That is why he spends the whole movie partially wrapped in bandages (and in an uneasy real life parallel, Wilson would attempt suicide that adds a poignancy to the role here, albeit not the one intended). Brody and Schwartzman meanwhile tagged along in his wake, not wholly enthusiastic but feeling as if they needed to perform some acts of significance to create a level of meaning to their and their father's lives, though you are never quite convinced that Indian mysticism is the right fit for any of them, despite their mother's embrace of its tenets. Along the way, Schwartzman opts to have an affair with a train stewardess named Rita (Amara Karan in her debut), but that leads to, if not heartache, then a sense of meaninglessness.
The Darjeeling Limited was a nice movie for trainspotters, or train lovers at any rate, as the act of taking part in a journey on one was central to some metaphor or other about our passage through our existence in general, with the Indian variety here offering both novelty to Westerners and importance to the transport and its centrality to their ways. If it was all a tad vague on the specifics about how the siblings' experiences tied in with the cosmic and the infinite, taking in death as well as life, tragic, too - there did need to be the trademark Anderson deadpan humour, after all - then it was a film to leave you in quiet contemplation, musing over stuff like, what did Bill Murray have to do with the plot when he was seen in the introduction and then merely once in passing thereafter? As ever with this director, the feeling of the controlled and the chaotic forever in conflict was prevalent here, but if anything, this was his true art film.
[The Criterion Collection releases The Darjeeling Limited on Blu-ray with a bumper crop of special features:
New high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Wes Anderson, with DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
Hotel Chevalier (part one of The Darjeeling Limited)
Audio commentary featuring Anderson and cowriters Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola
Behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman
Discussion between Anderson and filmmaker James Ivory on the music used in the film
Anderson's American Express commercial
On-set footage shot by Coppola and actor Waris Ahluwalia
Video essay by critic Matt Zoller Seitz
Deleted and alternate scenes
Original theatrical trailer
Stills galleries from James Hamilton, Laura Wilson, and Sylvia Plachy
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An insert featuring a new essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson.]