The Family Pervails

Unfortunately I had to miss yoga today in lieu of writing a paper for school. I have been taking a cinema class over the holiday break. I really enjoy Wes Anderson films and decided to analyze The Darjeeling Limited for my cinematic essay.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I would call it a ‘must see’. As like most Wes Anderson films it is very stylized, vivid in color and makes you think. Each time I watch it I see new details I didn’t see before. I had to keep the essay somewhat short so I focused in on the examination one of my favorite features of the film. The ironic use of a group of inanimate objects to drive home a deeper message about life. See if you agree or have a different take.


Original art by Elloh on Etsy

Analysis of The Darjeeling Limited

When taking a deeper look at the movie The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson, it could be difficult to choose what to focus on. His work is very stylized and could be analyzed purely on the movie’s visual impact as art, but I believe the true value lies in the movie’s implicit message. Yes, the movie is about three brothers on a journey after the loss of their father, but although this is the structure by which the story is told, it is not the message of value I am referring to. The real message of the story lies in the universal relationship between individuals and how not only their experiences, but their material world influences their relationships.  This is a dilemma that most of us living in the developed world face every day. What is important to happiness or a high quality of life? How do we determine our priorities and do the decisions we make everyday reflect what we truly desire from life? This dilemma is not unique to the western world, but it is definitely intensified by our capitalist culture. This is why I believe the movie is placed in India. The setting of India presents a stark contrast between wealth and poverty. This contrast is the perfect backdrop to present the question, how do the external world and our relationship with it affect our life satisfaction?  There are many ways the movie presents this question, but I would like to look more closely at the use of a set of luggage.

The three brothers meet on a train traveling through India. The first scene presenting all three brothers also presents the luggage. They are packed into a tiny room with a mountain of luggage piled on all sides of them. It is a matched set and pieces are hanging from hooks, stacked on the floor and sitting on the benches next to them. With each cross-cut from one shot to another the luggage appears at different places within the frame. One shot there is a piece in the bottom right of the frame, the next shot a piece is at the bottom left of the frame and the third shot there is a piece in the center of the frame. By strategically placing the luggage in different places within each shot the sense that the brothers are completely surrounded by the luggage is psychologically enhanced. It becomes immediately evident that they place a lot of importance on the ‘things’ in their life.

We soon find out through a flashback that the luggage belonged to their late father. It is implied that the brothers, even before the father’s funeral, began splitting up the father’s belongings including the luggage. It is in fact their desire to get the father’s Porsche from the mechanics shop that makes them miss the funeral. They are so busy gathering and hoarding their material inheritance that they perpetuate the dysfunction within their family.

The brothers get kicked off the train after a fight that turns physical and includes the use of mace. Jack says, “I love you too, but I’m gonna mace you in the face!” Standing on the platform outside the train the camera cuts to a shot of Jack with the mountain of luggage stacked behind him. It is not long before we pan along with the brothers as they trudge across the dessert weighted down by their luggage. This is the point where it becomes explicit that the luggage is truly representative of the emotional baggage they family carries around between them. It weighs on them, slows their progress and stands between them.

Daylight finds them hiking along a canal where they are required to temporarily throw the baggage aside to jump into the current and save three young boys’ lives. Peter fails in saving ‘his’ boy. The family of the dead boy brings them into their home and asks them to stay for the funeral. The baggage is only shown from a distance. It is still present but no longer in the foreground. Each brother is shown individually taking part in the daily rituals of the Indian family.

Upon leaving the village the camera again pans with the brothers’ travels. This time the three are seen riding together on a small motorbike. We smile at the three together, so physically close, on a little bike. We have a hope that the child’s death and the connection to his family has been a catalyst to bring these brothers closer. But the hope is short lived as the camera zooms out to include within the frame a small truck overloaded with their baggage following close behind.

The baggage is at a distance, but continues to stay ever present through the film. The baggage no longer crowds into the frame. The brothers seem to have found a bit of comfort or acceptance of each other in the final scenes. Each brother is shown making an effort to take part in the present moment and each other’s lives. With this new sense of contentment the brothers ride to the train station with their baggage. They arrive late and rush toward the train. The baggage is hanging from their shoulders, clenched in their hands and balancing on porter’s heads as they race for the train. It looks as if they will miss the train. We get a close-up of all three brothers, then cross-cut to a panning shot in slow motion. The music picks up tempo and the back of the train edges almost out of the frame. One by one the baggage gets dropped and each brother closes in on the train. Finally all three make it aboard without baggage in tow and with a bit of help from each other. Jack gives a hand to Francis and they both help Peter. The family prevails. Francis says, “Let’s go have a drink and smoke a cigarette.”

Written by Angela R.  Bryson

Published in: on January 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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