Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

There is something of a tradition in Western literature concerning Indian travelogues: the privileged Westerner travels to India, knowing – always! – that he (and it is usually a he) can leave when he likes. The sojourn in India is, for him, an encounter with the spiritual savage – the one who has maintained, by her primitiveness and poverty, a connection to some more primal and spiritual reality – which reality he appropriates, cafeteria-style, and brings with him upon his return to the west, having consumed even that which his lifestyle of consumption cannot provide him.

The Darjeeling Limited (along with its companion short film, Hotel Chevalier, which is available for free download at self-consciously appropriates this premise, ironically subverting it. Darjeeling (and Chevalier, as well) mark Anderson’s return to a more honest, nuanced style, reminiscent of Rushmore. Francis (Owen Wilson) brings his brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to India. Here they will embark on a “spiritual journey” on the titular train, with each day’s activities–from showers to temple visits–meticulously planned by Francis’s personal assistant, Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky).

Filled with director Wes Anderson’s singularly lush visuals, the film is both more interesting and more approachable than his previous outing, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. While both that film and his earlier effort, The Royal Tenenbaums, took great pleasure in humanizing and redeeming the American bourgeousie, Darjeeling is, ultimately, a story about how life as an élite is dehumanizing. The three brothers can find no solace, ultimately, in their spiritual journey; it is only when its abrupt end forces their return from the dreamworld of leisure and introspection to the realm of dirt and life and death that they are able to become human.

-Adam Parsons

Rotten Tomatoes


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