Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thoughts on the script: The Darjeeling Limited

First, a disclaimer. I love Wes Anderson's work. I loved The Royal Tannenbaums and I loved The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and I am very excited to see what Fantastic Mr. Fox looks like since it was one of my favorite books as a child.

It's no secret that I love action movies. I love stories that start with a bang and move with incredible speed from one place to another, bullets whizzing by as the stakes continue to rise until you can't breathe over the sense of urgency.

This is not like that at all of course, although there are a few funny fights. But there are no bullets of crazy martial arts moves in The Darjeeling Limited. But the dialogue is so quick and the emotional urgency is so thick the film feels just as urgent as any martial arts fest.

But quieter.

Anderson didn't write it himself, of course. Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman share the credit for this script. And I love them for it.


The Darjeeling Limited is a little comedy about three brothers on a spiritual journey across India to find their mother after their father's funeral. Each brother has his own issues they try to deal with in between dealing with the issues they have with each other.

There's not much of a plot and there doesn't need to be. It's only 107 pages and it's chock full of dialogue because this is a story about bizarre family dyanmics, about how we deal with grief in different ways and what it means to need each other. The story itself is the relationships. Just like all Anderson's other films.

What this script does with amazing skill is something so many new screenwriters have difficulty with: making each character a distinct person.

The older brother, Francis, is frantic to control the itinerary, the divvying up of his father's belongings, even what his brothers eat on the train. Peter resents his brother's urge to control and continually tries to assert his independence. And the third brother, Jack, find himself caught in the middle and escapes by nailing an Indian stewardess in the bathroom.

The brothers speak differently. They act differently. They have completely different motivations in every scene, and since the plot is so thin that's a necessity in a story like this. I think any writer who has difficulty making their characters individuals would do well to read this script.

By far my favorite scene in the script and a good example of the way the writers differentiate between the boys is this scene right after Francis gets pissed at Peter for using his dad's razor, which sets of a series of insults as the boys use their father's memory as a weapon against each other. Peter throws a belt at Francis who was already injured in a motorcycle accident and is covered in bandages. This sets off a clumsy fight in the middle of the train cabin:

Francis holds his cane around Peter's neck in a strict headlock, squeezing vigorously while Peter's face turns bright red. Peter digs his fingers under the bandages on Francis' head. The two brothers buck fitfully on the floor, banging into things, shouting, grunting.

You don't love me!

Yes I do!

I love you too but I'm going to mace you in the face!

Francis and Peter ignore Jack and continue fighting. Jack takes a deep breath and holds it. He fires the pepper spray at his brothers. It makes a pop and hiss.

Silence. Francis and Peter erupt into crazed screaming, pawing at their eyes and gasping for breath. Jack looks pained and scared. Francis grabs at Jack's ankles. Jack throws open the compartment door and retreats into the corridor. He watches as Francis and Peter slowly stagger to their feet, coughing and wheezing. Francis looks at Jack, squinting:

I had to do it.

Francis lunges at Jack. Jack kicks him. He runs to the end of the car, throws open the door, and heads into the next coach.

Jack turns around to face the door. He takes a step backwards. He inserts a fresh capsule into his can of pepper spray. He raises the cannister and waits. The door opens, and Jack maces Francis and Peter again. Francis and Peter scream and choke, clawing at their eyes. Jack shouts:

Stop including me!

Absurd and hilarious, particularly that line Jack says as he's about to mace his brothers, which made me have to stop reading because I was laughing so hard. But this scene is also significant for character development. Jack is tired of always being caught in the middle of Francis' constant need to be in control and Peter's constant need to rebel. And here he finally asserts himself.

But just like every other time the members of this family hurt each other, it's meant with love. The boys need each other. If Jack wasn't there to stop them with immediate pain Francis and Peter would have kept fighting until one of them really got hurt. They don't want to need each other, but they do.

It's just about the sweetest story I've read in a long time. I don't have brothers and I haven't lost anyone close to me but I still felt a deep connection to these boys simply because of their need to cling to each other through hardship. Anyone can relate to that I think.

As soon as I finished the script I jogged up to Blockbuster and rented the film. I hope it's as good on screen as it was on the page.


  1. Anonymous2:43 PM

    It's not. I'm going to check out the script now and see if it's better than the suck that TDL was on my tv screen. Snooze-fest.

  2. I liked the film quite a bit. If you didn't like the film you probably won't like the script.

    Do you like Wes Anderson's other stuff? You might just not like his style.

  3. Wasn't there a scene in the script that wasn't in the film? I remember the brothers getting into a fight in the airport bathroom.

  4. It wasn't a fight, but it was a longer scene than the one in the movie. Francis cries and the other two hold him after he undoes his bandages.


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