Wilson, Owen: Darjeeling Limited

In Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED, three American brothers who have not spoken to each other in a year set off on a train voyage across India with a plan to find themselves and bond with each other– to become brothers again like they used to be. Their “spiritual quest”, however, veers rapidly off-course (due to events involving over-the-counter pain killers, Indian cough syrup, and pepper spray), and they eventually find themselves stranded alone in the middle of the desert with eleven suitcases, a printer, and a laminating machine. At this moment, a new, unplanned journey suddenly begins. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman star in this film about their adventure and their friendship.

The idea of bringing his own comically bittersweet sensibility to a world so different from his own intrigued him. So all three of these story strands came together and Anderson found himself setting off on his own three-man quest to India. “I decided I would like to make a movie in India, I decided I would like to make a movie on a train, and I thought I’d like to make a movie about three brothers,” Anderson says. “Then I asked my friends Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola to join me in writing the movie and we all went to India together.”

Much of the initial inspiration for the characters came from Anderson, Schwartzman and Coppola’s own personal relationships and travel experiences, notes Coppola. “We each ended up sharing our experiences and germinating some of the ideas that factor into the story,” Roman explains.

Thus were born the three Whitman brothers who have been summoned to India one year after they buried their father together, seemingly never to speak to one another again. It is Francis, the eldest, who reunites the disparate siblings after a near-death motorcycle wreck that has left him swathed in a mummy-like mask of bandages and headgear. Claiming his brothers were the first thing on his mind when he came back to life after his accident, Francis has pre-arranged a minute-by-minute, carefully controlled itinerary designed to bring the brothers to some kind of spiritual epiphany or at least maybe bring them a little closer.

Meanwhile, Peter, the middle child, arrives steeped in his own anxiety as a man about to have a child with the woman he always thought he would divorce; and little Jack, the baby of the family and a writer who bases his “fictional” characters on everything that happens to him, comes to India still so obsessed with the ex-girlfriend he left behind in Paris, he can’t stop eavesdropping on her answering machine, for which he still has the code.

Brothers and Actors

The trip on DARJEELING LIMITED kicks off when Francis Whitman, played by Owen Wilson, following his brush with death, drags the two younger brothers he hasn’t spoken with in a year to India for a reunion journey, one that he intends, perhaps against all better judgment, to bring a much-needed spiritual awakening to their family relations.

To play the three brothers, Wes Anderson cast three leading actors with a unique affinity for each other, yet who also serve as delightful foils for one another’s temperaments. As the Whitmans, cool, wry Owen Wilson plays off the simmering intensity of Adrien Brody and the whimsically poignant comedy of Jason Schwartzman with an organic kind of family feeling.

In his role as the somewhat imperious eldest brother Francis, Owen Wilson appears as he has never been seen on screen before: achingly vulnerable (although outwardly an overbearing control freak), with most of his face heavily bandaged, covering the stitches and scars of his recent motorcycle crash, and limping along with a cane in a state of fragile desperation.

Francis’s physical appearance Anderson says, was inspired by “a guy I saw at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in a motorcycle jacket whose face was covered in bandages. He had foam pads on the side of his head, his eyes were all black–and he was walking around the place in this sort of startled daze, with tears just sort of standing in his eyes. You really felt like this guy had been through something horrific and you couldn’t stop watching him; and that was really the inspiration for Owen’s character in the film.”

Owen Wilson as Collaborator

Anderson and Wilson’s collaboration goes back to the beginning of both their careers, when they co-wrote Anderson’s directorial debut, the runaway indie hit BOTTLE ROCKET, which also launched Wilson as a screen star. Wilson went on to co-write RUSHMORE with Anderson, and the pair garnered an Oscar nomination for co-writing THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, in which Wilson also joined the ensemble cast. Wilson most recently reunited with Anderson with a role in THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU.

When Anderson sent Owen Wilson the screenplay for THE DARJEELING LIMITED, he reacted immediately to the story. “You know I’m from a family of three boys and it just seemed to capture that dynamic of how brothers are with each other. It was very funny and kind of sad too,” he says of the script.

As for Francis, Owen immediately liked his overwhelming sense of burden. “Francis really sees himself as the one trying to keep this family together,” he says. “You know, because our father is dead, our mother is AWOL, Francis is literally damaged, Jack is coming out of a bad relationship and Peter is having trouble with his wife– and in Francis’s mind this is a real emergency and he has to get his family back on track. So he’s united the brothers on this great adventure in India, and he has this funny idea that they’re going to have a spiritual journey–whether they like it or not.”

Everything Ends in Disaster

Of course, things don’t go exactly as Francis and his assistant so carefully planned on their laminated itineraries–or even close to it. “The story reminded me of one of those family vacations you had growing up where everything would end in disaster,” Wilson muses. “Even though we’re supposed to be having this blessed spiritual experience, we can’t quite get past the bickering that kept us away from each other for so long in the first place.” This, in turn, leads Francis to do the one thing he never would have tried on his own–letting go a little.

Wilson continues: “Francis is the type of person who thinks if you’re going to have a spiritual experience, you have to really put in the effort. It’s comical, of course, because you can’t really approach the spiritual with that kind of methodical determination, but in spite of Francis, they do each kind of have a spiritual experience.”

Being on Actual Train

Wilson notes that one of the things that really helped the realistic feeling of a family to gel among the three actors was actually being on a train in India themselves, so far from anything that resembled home. “Filming in a country and culture that feels so different and foreign affected us all and helped to get everyone in the same frame of mind,” he says. “You know, on the train there was no disappearing into your trailer or going home at night and turning on ESPN, so we really got to know each other very well. People always bond on film sets, but something seems to have happened that was particularly strong on this one. Being in India almost forced everyone into a true sense of family.”