The soul searching expedition across exotic climes is a well-rehearsed trope. It’s one made ever the more clichéd as so many of us become eastward-bound, leaving behind a trail of beautifully filtered, exquisitely enhanced images carefully framed by a discerning western eye. When Wes Anderson unravels his own voyage of soul searching, clichéd is very much the domain in which it rides. Yet this cliché isn’t going to be a journey lightly travelled.
The whimsical, flighty odyssey of three estranged brothers across India is unwaveringly true to Anderson’s signature aesthetic. Rife with indulgence of the sweetest kind, The Darjeeling Limited appears on the hazy horizon like a saccharine fairy-tale. It’s an unreservedly romanticised version of the Indian Subcontinent, revealing only its most enchanting side in a clichéd mist of spices and dusty planes, elegantly interlaced with the cigarette smoke of the curious Western wanderer.
A spiritual quest devised by the eldest of the brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), after a near fatal car crash, his heavily bandaged head shining amongst the neat white turbans. It’s this near death experience that inspired him to reconnect his path with those of his two brothers, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) after their father’s death. With a whole load of emotional baggage that can’t quite fit into their perfectly scuffed, vintage suitcases, their journey unfolds from within the narrow corridors of the rattling train, where hushed conversation and illicit rendezvous take place beneath the crumbling paint and faded splendour.
It’s a quest for self-discovery, in which nobody seems all that bothered. A pursuit of enlightened discovery with a check list firmly in hand, laminated itineraries of spiritual endeavours compiled by a hired assistant. Determined in his goal of spiritual awakening, Francis pushes on, encouraging his brothers to stick it out yet all the while his spirituality displaced by the more pressing quest for a power adapter.
Such half-hearted spiritualism is certainly a humorous dig at the Westerner who seeks enlightenment upon distant horizons; the longing for genuine experience in a train that jangles with chandeliers and crystal wine glasses. Ancient rituals enacted in temples are briefly reflected upon in wonder, followed promptly by the ceremonial act of a shoe shine and a bargain find at the local market. Here is a check list of clichés, a tried and tested recipe to the art of spiritual awakening. The Whitman brothers are propelled forward blindly, helped along by the soothing swigs of Indian muscle relaxer and gulps of local flu medicine laced with tranquiliser. Their carriage tinkers with medicine bottles, the journey itself an attempt at healing. From broken bones to childhood scars, it’s a search for a cure to the qualms of their modern existence.