“Where’s Bill Murray?” I found myself asking that question throughout The Darjeeling Limited. Murray makes a brief cameo in the movie as he enjoys a brief taxi cab ride. During this harrowing trip his face runs through a range of expression with such ease and unassuming panache that from that scene on I kept hoping he would pop back up and start speaking. At this point, Murray has became a de facto Anderson repertory player, and his absence in the rest of the movie is a sore lack. Murray can play sadness and ennui, so crucial for characters in Wes Anderson films, without even trying. The three (figurative) clowns who star aren’t cut out for wallowing but slapstick.
The clowns in question are three brothers riding a train around India, in a forced attempt at enlightenment or closure. Devised and choreographed by the often manic Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson), who forces his brothers — the oddly detached Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody) and the depressive and lecherous Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) — along in an effort to bring them closer together. On this trip they encounters strange people and environments. Though they wind up diverging from Francis’s itenerary — which is laser-printed onto cards and then laminated by his secret assistant every day (can you tell this is a Wes Anderson film?) — they wind up where they were supposed to and something resembling a resolution is reached.
Watching The Darjeeling Limited it became clear that like his previous efforts, this one is simpler and more straightforward in its plot than its predecessor. Other movies are fully realized down to the smallest detail. This one is closer to a sketch than a painting: Not all of the details are filled in but are instead hinted at. The rest must be imagined by the viewer, which, depending on the imagination, can be frustrating.
But because of the simplicity of its plot, the film necessarily becomes more complex in its methods of characterization. The intimate details that make up a character are suggested through subtle shadings and nuance, intimated rather than clearly spelled-out. The Darjeeling Limited bringing us tantalizingly close to these characters without exactly showing who these brothers are. We know them so much as we know things about them.
The Darjeeling Limited is accompanied by an introductory short, Hotel Chevalier (also available on its own as a free iTunes download), which introduces us to Jack Whitman. Set at some point before Darjeeling, it is set at the titular Paris hotel. Jack waits as his ex-girlfriend shows up, and when she does they don’t talk or fight so much as observe the denouement of their relationship. Their conversation suggests volumes but explains very little. In its simplicity and stark eloquence Hotel Chevalier stands in marked contrast to Darjeeling’s loose structure. Despite their differences, both films are worth a look.