Family dysfunction and disconnection after the passing of a parent is at the forefront of this whimsical comedy about three brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, who have recently lost their father and are brought together to bond while going on a spiritual journey via a train trip through India.
Like a dream vacation, this movie is fun, relaxing and caters to your every need. One of the many pleasures of this film is the non-verbal expressions and body language used to communicate volumes between the characters. Much of what the characters feel is not expressed in words, and this film takes full advantage of the cast’s abilities of physical expression and deadpan humor.
The journey of self-discovery; people who travel to far away destinations to find new truths about themselves, is a powerful theme in many of our most memorable films, beginning with non-other than The Wizard of Oz (1939), and include such favorites as The Razor’s Edge (1984), Pleasantville (1998), Enlightenment Guaranteed (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), and the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited (2007), who also directed Fantastic Mr.Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).
These soul searching films often take place in exotic other worldly locations like Japan, India or alternate reality worlds as in The Wizard of Oz and Pleasantville. Many people seeking spiritual enlightenment often end up in Japan or India as in The Razor’s Edge, Enlightenment Guaranteed, Lost in Translation and The Darjeeling Limited. But wherever the location, whether physical or psychological, the story follows a similar pattern; a crisis in one’s routine life leads to questioning of one’s existence and the hero leaves the familiar path, traveling into the unknown to seek out the truth. After many trials confronting inner demons, their understanding of the world and themselves is changed and expanded, resulting in a new beginning.
Soon after settling into their cabins on The Darjeeling Limited the animosity between the brothers quickly becomes apparent, manifesting itself as the selfish brothers, who are carrying a lot of emotional baggage, suffer from typical western vices like emotional immaturity, addiction to pharmaceutical drugs, materialism while fighting over their dead father’s belongings and mistrust of each other as they secretly plan to abandon the journey in case the situation becomes unbearable.
Visually, we get to see some beautiful Indian scenery along the rail tracks as the train slowly ambles onward past remote farming villages, representing the journey of life we must all travel. The interior of the train itself is spectacularly decorated to evoke a long lost era of colonial India. Not only being one of the most visually pleasing films to watch, it’s also a treat for the ears as we get to hear a surreal mix of traditional Indian music from the Merchant Ivory and Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films with 60s pop songs by the British rock band The Kinks thrown in.
As the family conflicts erupt between the brothers, they are thrown off the train and thus symbolically leave the path to start the journey toward enlightenment. While abandoned in the desert, a situation eventually presents itself during which the brothers come together to engage in their first unselfish act to save the lives of three village children, which allows them to finally connect with each other and let go of their past emotional baggage. Their itinerary abandoned, and emotional scars revealed, they finally learn to trust and respect each other as they grow into mature unselfish adults and the family unity is restored.
I highly recommend you watch the director approved special edition Criterion version of this film on Blu-ray, as it contains a truly amazing and incredible behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman. This visually striking documentary about the making of the film is definitely worth seeing and should not be missed. I also recommend the motion picture soundtrack to this film, which contains some excellent music.