Some films attract viewers with breathtaking locations that do not, in any way, coincide with the stories. Having seen such movies, it’s hard not to have the same expectations with The Darjeeling Limited. At some point, I get the feeling that it tries to cover up holes by diverting our attention to the scenery. With all its restlessness, deserts and yellowness, India is after all a beautiful place.
Most of the funny moments occur inside a moving train. Ironically, the jokes work better due to the truthfulness and tragedy they imply. The brothers keeping secrets and their constant bickering are endless sources of quotable quotes yet these show how strained their relationship is. Except for Francis, the brothers seem to consider their sibling relationship secondary to their current relationships and problems. Prior to their big fight, and probably with the idea that this unendurable trip will end and they can go on with their respective lives, the brothers choose to shrug things off instead of talk things out.
Coincidentally, the quiet moments are found when the train is not moving. In a parallel sequence of two burials, we are shown how the brothers deal with their dad’s death in contrast to how a father copes with the loss of his child. The former is funny because it is silly and tragic. Their emotions are more restrained. Their efforts in forcing their dad’s car out of the repair shop are futile and pathetic. These characteristics make their situation more heartbreaking. It makes me feel that they carry something heavy and holding back tears. The latter, however, is not insignificant because it bridges the disconnect between the siblings’ relationship and their journey in India; the death of a boy and the families’ entirely different response to it reminding them of their own loss.
Despite of its relatively happy ending, it still leaves some questions unanswered. I’ve been wondering what Bill Murray’s character is doing in the first scene. I also intend not just to see their mother but to know why she decides not to attend their dad’s funeral. The film, like the mother, abandons these questions and proceeds with a more bizarre montage of characters that leaves us wondering more.
With the question of whether Hotel Chevalier is essential to the film, I will still feel the same satisfaction of knowing the three are acting like real brothers again in the end even without the short film. Yet it would be a shortcoming for it not to be shown because it gives the Jack character his own story. Its absence makes him an accessory character, dragged onto his siblings’ personal issues. Here we have Francis and his self-inflicted injury, Peter with his reservations and anxieties of being a father, and Jack, just calling his ex-girlfriend all the time. Hotel Chevalier may not give a proper answer to why Jack acts the way he does, but it gives us an idea that his frequent calls and the relationship that he has is significant.