It must be some cosmic coincidence that the release date for “The Darjeeling Limited” on DVD came right after the buzz around the Oscars started to fade. Or maybe it was just good timing. If Fox had made the decision to do it beforehand, it would’ve been ignored by audiences who were too busy catching up on what they missed in theaters. This works much better and, now that it’s on DVD, “The Darjeeling Limited” has a lot more going for it – it deserves an audience.
Is it unfair to bring up the Oscars in a discussion about overlooked films like this? Not always. In fact, the Oscars can be a wonderful point of reference. When you think about this year’s Best Picture nominees, remember that most of them involve someone who ends up getting killed. (Except for “Juno.”) They deserve their nominations, though: A movie like “Atonement” is more intelligent than “The Darjeeling Limited,” but the second feels more friendly than the first. Maybe what was holding it back – why it wasn’t able to get a single nomination, in other words – was the fact that no one dies. There’s a little boy who falls to his death, but that’s it.
The story involves Francis Whitman’s (Owen Wilson) relationship with his brothers, Jack and Peter (Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody). Francis and his brothers haven’t seen each other since last year, when they all got together for their dad’s funeral. Now they’re leaving America to set off on a strange mission in India: They take a train called the Darjeeling Limited to a lonely religious order, where their mother (Anjelica Huston) came to live years ago.
Francis wants to be reunited with his brothers – he thinks a nice vacation might do the trick. Jack isn’t so sure: “I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life? Not as brothers, but as people.” He sounds as if he doesn’t expect an answer.
You’ve heard that “The Darjeeling Limited” is a comedy. Maybe it is, but all the laughs are underplayed. That was a wise decision, since most of them don’t even work. Example: Francis, Jack and Peter have just been informed that the train is lost. “How can a train be lost?” Jack asks. “It’s on rails.” Ho, ho.
We don’t care about the comedy, though. That’s not the point. It’s the emotion between the actors. Seeing the three of them together feels beautiful and misplaced at the same time – they’re like pieces of a puzzle that don’t quite fit together. It’s as if they were all meant to live in different places and times, but their paths coincided here instead. That the movie was written by three different screenwriters (Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and director Wes Anderson) might’ve had something to do with this.
If you like haunting dramas with deeply human characters, don’t miss this one. Some people think movies like “The Darjeeling Limited” are too dark to be beautiful. But the joke’s on them. Ho, ho.