Let's get one thing out of the way: There is, in fact, a motherfucking snake on this motherfucking train.
And a lot more, as Wes Anderson, the director-guru of hipsters everywhere, has returned with his best film since Rushmore. Anderson is traversing familiar territory in The Darjeeling Limited, but none of it is geographical-instead, he once again takes on the dysfunctional father-figure themes that have been the track all his celluloid trains have run on. But this time things are different. The father figure has been dead for a year, and his three sons have had no contact with one another, until Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) find themselves on a train in India, on a spiritual quest spearheaded by their oldest brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), whose entire head is wrapped in bandages following a recent near-death accident. It's fitting that the film is named after and takes place on a train, because all three of the Whitman brothers are train wrecks of the emotional type. Each is spoiled and self-absorbed, unwilling to truly open up to and embrace his siblings, even though a reconnection is exactly what each needs to deal with his deep-seated grief.
Peter has an obsession with his father's possessions, Jack tunnels all his angst into getting laid and Francis is desperate to be in control and force his brothers to love one another-by any means necessary. They bicker. They fight. They are wholly unable to let go of their own petty issues long enough to really see the guy on the other side of the compartment. They think they want spiritual soothing, but they're more interested in shopping for cheap souvenirs when the opportunity presents itself. It is their own disenchantment with themselves and each other that finally presents a time when, and a place where, enlightenment is tragically thrust upon them.
As a director, Anderson is back to his old deadpan tricks, but unlike his last two films, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums, he finally puts everything out on the table. The Darjeeling Limited isn't a particularly complex film, and that actually makes it stronger. The hidden truths aren't hidden at all, and each empty gesture is merely a defense mechanism. The painful realities the Whitman brothers are facing, along with the baggage they carry-both physical and metaphysical-is fairly universal, even if they are a bunch of spoiled rich kids. An encounter with their mother (Angelica Huston) and a blisteringly well-written funeral flashback gives insight into the brothers-their faults and flaws and, in one scene, how they truly have each other's backs.
Robert Yeoman, who has shot Anderson's four previous films, is back on board, capturing the dusty, colorful beauty of India and creating gorgeous slow-motion shots that truly make the movie. Schwartzman, who shares a writing credit with Anderson and Roman Coppola, is great, both in Darjeeling and its companion piece, Hotel Chevalier, a short film available online that gives a little more insight into the feature. Wilson, an Anderson veteran, has a moment at the end of the film, as he unwraps his bandages, that captures the picture's entire theme. Brody, a newcomer to Anderson's company of actors, fits right in, packing his trademark emotional gravitas for the journey. While the three may not look alike, they understand the small-mindedness, the longstanding grudges and the deep, unspoken affection that come from growing up in the same household.
It's easy to say this is just another film about spoiled man-children who are unable to deal with the realities of life, and that enlightenment, spiritual or otherwise, can't be purchased through a travel agent. And you'd be right. But that's the point, and that's exactly why Wes Anderson has gotten back on track. Because, grasshopper, sometimes enlightenment is found when you stop looking for it.