‘I guess I still have some healing to do’; Depression and Moving On in The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Anderson’s fifth feature length film, The Darjeeling Limited, made it’s world premiere on the 3rd September, 2007 at the Venice Film Festival, before making a wider release in the US later in the year. It stars co-writer Jason Schwartzman, along with Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson as three estranged brothers who reluctantly meet in India a year after their father’s death on a luxury train named ‘The Darjeeling Limited’. All have suffered in various ways during this year, and meet in an attempt to bond over their search for enlightenment and help for their shared depression.

We as an audience can see that the brothers are yet to come to terms with the death of their father. All are carrying luggage filled with their late father’s possessions, even branding his initials on the cases. This is literal ‘baggage’ – baggage of the past and their relationship with their father and each other, which they carry with them throughout their journey. The symbolism becomes more apparent when on their return journey they run to catch the train and discard the luggage as they go, showing them literally letting go of this baggage.

Francis Whitman, played by Owen Wilson

Francis too carries physical symbols that indicate his emotional baggage – after a motorcycle crash, Francis’ head is wrapped in bandages, his face is littered with bruises and his nose is broken. When they first meet, Peter asks ‘What happened to your face?’, showing the lack of communication between the brothers over the year after their father’s funeral. Francis tells him and Jack that the crash was an accident, but when recalling the story to their mother later in the film, he reveals it was a suicide attempt – though this is done in typical Anderson fashion; subtle and offhand. On learning this, one scene becomes more prominent – when Francis removes his bandages to inspect his injuries, and sighs ‘I guess I still have some healing to do’. This scene shows that he attempts to heal his metaphorical wounds that caused his attempted suicide by undertaking this journey with his brothers, and this is patterned by how his physical wounds heal. Now being with his brothers, he feels like this may have been the answer, but on inspection sees there is still some way to go – as Jack responds; ‘you’re getting there though.’

L to R – Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Francis (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Adrien Brody)

Being the one who organised the trip shows that Francis realises the reasons behind his depression – his estrangement from his family – and attempts to solve them. He constantly pokes and prods Jack and Peter into situations where they may bond, and even when it seems the trip will fall apart he doesn’t wane and suggests alternatives. He remarks how after his crash he wished his brothers were present in his life; as you would expect, his near-death experience made him assess his life. His brothers on the other hand, need to become involved in saving a group of children playing in the river from drowning – and to witness one dying and his family’s reactions afterwards – to shock them into confronting their own issues and realising they too needed to make amends with each other. In a deleted scene, Peter asks if the children are brothers, showing how he relates his own situations to that of the children, and how he would feel is his own brother, Francis, had succeeded in his suicide attempt. He also begs one of the boys to let the family know he ‘almost had him…he just slipped through my fingers and I couldn’t save him’, showing he feels responsibility for the boy’s death as he may now feel leaving his pregnant wife in America without warning – he indicates he now may be ready to take responsibility for his own child as he has for the one he tried to save, even deciding to buy the child a gift in the airport and excitedly telling his mother about him.

Flashback: The Whitman brothers going to their father's funeral

Flashback: The Whitman brothers going to their father’s funeral

After this explanation, the brother’s attend the boy’s funeral, which then cuts to another funeral – that of their father – or at least, the attempted journey to the funeral. In what seems like an attempt to avoid confronting their father’s death and to remain in denial, they make a stop at a garage working on their late father’s car, and act aggressively towards the engineers when they say it isn’t fixed yet. In doing this, they never attend the funeral, and are able to remain in denial over their father’s death. Attending the funeral of the boy they failed to save in the river, they are able to experience the cathartic nature of a funeral and begin to come to terms with their own loss.

Once Jack, Peter and Francis leave the village of the young boy, their attitudes change. Before they were ready to give up on their journey to become closer, and now seem to enjoy the  trip and each other’s company – perhaps appreciating it for the first time as adults. They show genuine concern  for one another when discussing their lives, instead of coming from a place of politeness or duty to ask about them. They even decide to visit their estranged mother, which Jack and Peter refused to do earlier in the film, now ready to accept their family and reach out to them even if they try to keep them away.

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