Wes Anderson and the infinite sadness

Well-suited director crafts his most melancholic movie yet

by Kara Nesvig

If you’re contemplating hopping on a train and taking an ambitious, spiritually-driven quest to “find yourself,” you’ve got a lot of work to do. Said journey involves meticulous planning, excessive list making, plenty of research, and of course, a ridiculous amount of luggage. (You never know what situations will arise; those 12 pairs of shoes are necessary! What if it rains? What if we meet Bill Murray?)

“The Darjeeling Limited”

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
Rated: R
Showing at: Area Theaters

But no matter how many bags you pack, you’ve got nothin’ on the Whitman brothers, fictional stars of Wes Anderson’s latest quirky creation, “The Darjeeling Limited.” Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are the bearers of a massive monogrammed collection of valises belonging to their late father, and they cart those babies through hell and high water, literally. These duffels, satchels and trunks play a pivotal role in this bittersweet cinematic examination of family, love, grief and reconnection.

The three Whitman siblings haven’t spoken since their father’s funeral a year ago. In the interim, each has gone his separate way. Eldest brother Francis was recently seriously injured in a self-inflicted motorcycle accident and his face-full of bandages is a sad and constant reminder of his inner pain. Peter insists on wearing his father’s old prescription sunglasses, even though they cause him horrible headaches, and finds it impossible to deal with his own forthcoming fatherhood. Jack has holed himself up in a Paris hotel since the funeral, coping with a broken heart and a toxic ex-girlfriend, writing short stories, and hiding from his demons. (His story is further told in the enchanting short film “Hotel Chevalier,” which will be included in “Darjeeling’s” DVD release.)

When micromanaging Francis insists upon bringing them together for what he plans to be a spiritual journey to India, the three reunite reluctantly for a madcap train voyage meant to tie up the loose ends of their relationship.

In “The Darjeeling Limited,” his fifth feature film, Anderson has crafted his most melancholy movie to date. Sure, “Darjeeling” is chock full of the sly and clever Wes-esque humor Anderson junkies have come to love, but “Darjeeling” is also steeped in a blanket of subtle sadness.

It’s obvious the Whitman siblings are troubled, unable to properly mourn their father and grappling with emotions stemming from the disappearance of their flighty mother, played delicately and poignantly by Anderson regular Anjelica Huston. They guzzle down painkillers constantly and squabble like children, struggling to regain their brotherly relationship. They plunge into rapid-running rivers to rescue three small boys with disastrous results. This is heavy stuff, and Anderson handles it deftly with heart and sympathy.

It’s also clearly apparent that the three Whitman brothers are constantly running away from their respective problems. For Francis, Peter and Jack to finally come to terms with the tragedies of their past, they must first come full-circle and confront the things that cause them pain instead of skirting the issue and hiding from it. At the moment in which they finally let go of all their baggage, their healing begins.

The film itself is stunning to look at; the rich and vibrant colors of India light up the silver screen like exotic birds of paradise. The scenery is breathtaking, a gorgeous backdrop for the story to unfurl like the folds in a silk sari. India seems to play its own role as the Whitmans’ train thunders across its hue-saturated landscape. And, as always, Anderson pulls a forgotten tune from the vaults – this time “Play with Fire” by the Rolling Stones – to create an unforgettable scene and give further breadth and depth to his characters.

Though “The Darjeeling Limited” is a slight departure from the more lighthearted works we’ve seen from Anderson in the past, it is a thoughtfully created, deeply moving portrait of the ties that bind and the many ways in which we weave the tapestry of family.

And so, young traveler, if poisonous cobras, brotherly bickering, sitar sonatas and beautiful foreign stewardesses are your cup of tea, book yourself a ticket on “The Darjeeling Limited,” and watch for Bill Murray.