A little while ago, maybe a few months or so ago, I saw this film and I have to say that I found it to be a pretentious mess. Dumb lines like: “How can a train get lost, if there are tracks.” It’s these three brothers looking for a profound spiritual experience, that for me plays out as just one more of those types of films where somebody goes to some mystical place like India in order to experience or achieve enlightenment. I don’t know. I mean, the Owen Wilson character having a bandage wrapped around his head just calls attention to itself, rather than being meaningful to the film. And then there are those really stupid shots that we’ve seen a hundred times before where we see the brothers riding through India on a motorcycle or jumping on a train, while Ray Davies, ( I think that is the person who is singing and I’m not too wild about the song he’s singing ), plays on the soundtrack. Then, the three brothers seeing their mother and I’m not quite sure if we get a certifiable explanation of why she became a nun. And why does she leave her sons at the convent in the morning? Doesn’t she want to catch up with what they have been doing with their lives and have some time to connect to her sons? And then, just sticking Bill Murray in a couple of scenes sort of says something like, “look, we put Bill Murray in our film.” Does anybody else feel like this about the film? Or, are there others who believe and think it was a good film. I don’t know. Maybe the humor was lost on me. What do you guys think?
Like most of Wes Anderson films, I just didn’t get the characters. That left me on the outside simply looking at them instead of being involved.
“It’s these three brothers looking for a profound spiritual experience, that for me plays out as just one more of those types of films where somebody goes to some mystical place like India in order to experience or achieve enlightenment.”
Except it’s a satire on that, in a sense.
The characters go to India expecting a dramatic spiritual understanding from the experience which is why they play through the tourist spots and take time out of their arguments with each other to throw off side lines like “I love it here”. However the trip itself turns out to be superficial and they come to their understanding of each other like as if they were locked in any American apartment with each other, same results. So the trip itself is spiritually fulfilling but not because of India, which is their superficial expectation, but because of their relationships, which was their inherent goal.
“I mean, the Owen Wilson character having a bandage wrapped around his head just calls attention to itself, rather than being meaningful to the film. And then there are those really stupid shots that we’ve seen a hundred times before where we see the brothers riding through India on a motorcycle or jumping on a train, while Ray Davies, ( I think that is the person who is singing and I’m not too wild about the song he’s singing ), plays on the soundtrack.”
Or same as the luggage or the use of glasses or the compartmentalization of the train itself, Anderson’s style and the meaning behind it is discussed at length in the recent Moonrise Kingdom thread. Basically, Anderson’s movies themselves are self-aware and frame little narratives around the characters while the characters themselves are completely un-self aware and particularly, wait a bit:
“How can a train get lost, if there are tracks.”
…engaging in ironic understatement.
“Then, the three brothers seeing their mother and I’m not quite sure if we get a certifiable explanation of why she became a nun. And why does she leave her sons at the convent in the morning? Doesn’t she want to catch up with what they have been doing with their lives and have some time to connect to her sons?”
Baggage. The brothers bring it along to sort it out amongst each other. Key question: when do they lose it? And then afterward they feel they’ve got it ‘together’ so they go to see their mother, where it becomes clear that they are still predisposed to the same needs that they think they have overcome. By and large her point on the matter is, ’What of it? Let it all go, boys." So now why would she be a nun?
“And then, just sticking Bill Murray in a couple of scenes sort of says something like, “look, we put Bill Murray in our film.”
Agreed, though it’s a cute little mini-narrative. I’m also not a fan of Hotel Chevalier, nor its reference in the train pan near the end during the meditation scene.
“That left me on the outside simply looking at them instead of being involved.”
That’s kind of, I don’t know, Wes Anderson’s joke about how the characters think.
Apparently the French don’t get Anderson either.
“Something out of nothing” is a reference to the the now-famous lecture and book by the physicist Lawrence Krauss. Watch it and be rewarded:
Then, the three brothers seeing their mother and I’m not quite sure if we get a certifiable explanation of why she became a nun. And why does she leave her sons at the convent in the morning? Doesn’t she want to catch up with what they have been doing with their lives and have some time to connect to her sons?
Um, the mother had to escape from her life before. She HAD to. Haven’t you ever heard of women who run away from their families, realizing they made a huge mistake? That’s what happened to her. She never wants to go back to the past again. Never.
BTW I really liked this movie because it had to do with this weird search for meaning which ends up meaning … well, it doesn’t resolve much of anything. The brothers fight about the past, then they kind of come to terms with it. Their parents lived lives that had parts which had nothing to do with them. And this is made very evident when kids’ families split up.
To me this was very familiar, not from personal experience, but from seeing what happened to some of my friends. Divorce/separation of one’s parents throws the kids into all kinds of confusion. Which they never can truly come to terms with. I mean, intellectually I suppose they do, but the question of WHY this had to happen, the emotional question, the wish that it hadn’t, the feelings of the child, are always there, even if they make peace with it eventually.
What happens with your parents’ relationship has a huge impact on you, a lasting one. That cannot be disputed.
Among Anderson’s movies, I thought this was his most fluid and interesting.
So THERE. A differing opinion.
I mean, the Owen Wilson character having a bandage wrapped around his head just calls attention to itself, rather than being meaningful to the film
The Owen Wilson character is the most volatile of the three. It makes sense that he has a bandage wrapped around his head for a long portion of the film.
And then there are those really stupid shots that we’ve seen a hundred times before where we see the brothers riding through India on a motorcycle or jumping on a train, while Ray Davies, ( I think that is the person who is singing and I’m not too wild about the song he’s singing ), plays on the soundtrack.
They are a discombobulated family coming together for the first time in a long time, they don’t have their coordination together as a unit. Their trying to be in the same place is not easy. Their trying to GET to the same place is not easy. They’re always scrambling to stick together, they are not used to it.
@Odilonvert I guess I could go along with that. I just thought that perhaps, and I could be wrong, that she was not the type of woman who would just leave her sons behind when they get up in the morning. It seems that she really cares about them and I just found it odd. I just did not have a clear understanding of why she left her family. Trying to remember the film, didn’t she and the father divorce each other? I’m not quite sure. I’d have to jog my memory a little. Also, how did they find out that their mother was out there? My mind is a little sketchy on some of the film. Did they know already?
@Odilonvert My parents got divorced when my brother and I had already become adults, so I would have to say it must be a more traumatic thing to go through when you are a kid, because you’re just trying to get your bearings and figure out who you are and forming your identity and tastes, etc. Still, I did not care for the film, but thanks for your opinion.
No one understood why she left the family. One day, she just got up and left. (now I don’t remember if that meant eventual divorce at all!) She realized it was not what she wanted, she did not fit into the “family” mold. Or the worldly mode, for that manner. She is a spiritual person, an ascetic person, a person who does not want the attachments of her former life. You can’t really properly explain that to your loved ones, I guess, unless they allow you the respect you need to be yourself, they let you be more than just their mother/wife/sister/best friend/whatever.
I don’t remember now how they found out about where their mother is… good question.
Buddha was like that. He was wealthy and he was married and had a son and he gave it all up so he could find enlightenment. I find the subject of Buddhism interesting. I know I’m sort of going off the subject but I thought I’d mention that.
Yes, that’s what the ascetic thing is about… :)
“I don’t remember now how they found out about where their mother is… good question.”
If I remember correctly it’s not spelled out in the film. It’s Francis who planned the trip and only he knows that this is their ultimate destination at first. She later tells them that she told them “not to come here” which implies that they have known where she is and had some sort of contact with her. They also ask why she didn’t come to their father’s funeral, and she replies that she didn’t want to . . . which also implies that she was in contact (so that she could have known about the funeral in the first place).
Yeah, the Buddha, also Francis of Assisi was the wealthy son of a merchant, but he gave it all up and went with out shoes on his journeys.
. . . hmm, Francis Whitman . . . Francis of Assisi . . . who received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ’s Passion.
later, someone steals one of Francis’s shoes . . .
Oh, and Anderson says in the press notes that he got the idea for Francis’s bandages after seeing a man similarly bandaged outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
^ cool! :)
I was gonna go on to point out that the middle brother is named Peter, but I ran out of steam. But there’s a whole comic Roman Catholic element to the film.
More (recent) thoughts on what to do with Anderson’s film here
^ HA! Awesome, Matt. I’d been staying away from the smarmy thread just because I had no idea from glancing at the title that it had anything to do with any movies I’d seen (I see so few since the wee ones came into the world). I’ll have to take a look at that.
So weird, I never thought about the RC connection at all when I saw Darjeeling. Hmmmmm…. that might be quite amusing to me… :D
It’s only one layer, of course, but it’s one way into things. It’s not really something that occurred to me the first time through.
I’m just glad there were a lot of comments in that thread after the first splat of vomit that were not about “Oh I hate that guy!” I’m not the most objective person all the time but I was taken aback at the lack of perspective about Anderson’s films just based on a visceral feeling of dislike. One of the least analytical conversations I have ever seen on this forum, though I guess I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the rest — for sure they must exist. Wow…
It also makes me think that I should wait for a while as a discussion develops to have a really good idea about what is going on in it. The flavor of it takes a while to develop, but you really start to see very clearly where people are responding so emotionally that it’s impossible to take what they are saying as anything more than pure opinion. Hmmmm….
Many Wes Anderson films start strong for me—and then peter out—but this one felt pretty flat from the get-go. Here are some thoughts and questions off the top of my head:
>On one hand the film seems like a satire on the spiritual quest made by Westerners going to the Far East. On that level, the satire wasn’t very effective or funny, partly because the target was too easy, perhaps.
>On the other hand, the film felt like straight (poignant) drama about struggling with family loss and estranged relationships. The film didn’t really work for me on this level, either. (I wonder if this is Anderson’s more personal and direct film.)
>What do people make of the meaning of the title of the film and the significance of the train—particularly the scenes where the characters are running to get on the train. (The scenes seem to symbolize something—the train symbolizing a journey of life or deeper living perhaps.)
>I’m curious to hear thoughts on the connection between Hotel Chevalier and Darjeeling.
They drop a lot of baggage when trying to catch that train.
The business man also doesn’t make the train in the earlier scene (although he eventually does get on the train).
To answer a two month old question. I believe Francis says he hired a private detective to track down their mother and then he has his assistant repeatedly call to tell her they are coming, which she tries to dissuade by saying she is busy and there is a man-eating tiger in the area. The boys don’t believe her, but when they do arrive they see the tiger tracks for themselves. The tiger then makes an appearance while they are engaged in their wordless meditation. The wordless meditation, with the soundtrack playing the Rolling Stones song “Play with Fire” doesn’t show the literal train that the boys rode in previously or the one that they will ride in at the end of the film, but a train as a metaphor where many of the significant characters who have been introduced in the film previously are shown in places that take on the appearance on being train cars. The assistant, for example, is shown “on an airplane” “on the train” while Jack’s girlfriend is shown “in a hotel room” “on the train”, and Peter’s wife is in “her bedroom” “on the train”. Bill Murray’s character is the last person we see and, if memory serves, he does appear to be “on a train” “on the train”, and his look off screen shows the tiger which isn’t “on the train” but seems to be watching it or aware of it as Murray is of him.
I’m going to re-watch this soon. From what I remember, the experience of travelling in India was disingenuous and trite. I should know, I’ve backpacked India and am an expert at travelling there.
Is Wes Anderson all about keeping things at a distance? Even location/environment? I’ve seen a couple of his films and they leave me feeling emotionally numb. He isn’t boring by any means. But he fails to get an emotional response out of me.
I really want to get Wes. Feels like I’m missing out on something special.
Mogambo – Read through the Moonrise Kingdom thread. There are some interesting ideas there about Anderson’s use of artifice as a way of distancing us from some of the more emotionally intense aspects of his characters and stories. But maybe look at Anderson to give you something other than an emotional response?
That’s sort of a tough thing to answer as I don’t think it is about distancing exactly, at least not in the sense that idea might be used for other directors, but as I mentioned earlier, he is asking the viewer to see the films not as the sort of representational “real” that most films do where what the events that happen are meant to be understood as true to that film world as our day to day life is true to us. Instead, Anderson references fiction in itself and the characters are involved in fictional worlds in the films so there is a layered awareness of reality for the characters and the viewers. For example, the suitcases in Darjeeling aren’t just symbols to the viewer, they are conscious symbols to the characters as well.
Actually, I just checked the train click on youtube and it isn’t entirely clear where Murray’s character is as the space he is in seems as much or more like a home or office or maybe a bar as it does a train car, given the ornaments in it, so I take back that part.
Greg said, Instead, Anderson references fiction in itself and the characters are involved in fictional worlds in the films so there is a layered awareness of reality for the characters and the viewers. For example, the suitcases in Darjeeling aren’t just symbols to the viewer, they are conscious symbols to the characters as well.
Hmm. The suitcases bit struck me. So the characters see the suitcases as symbols as well? I missed that. Can you go into that more? When you say “layered reality,” I’m not sure what you mean. You mean the characters are aware that that they’re in a fictionalized world—one filled with metaphors and symbols? I can understand how Anderson is using films, stories, plays, music in this self-aware and self-conscious way—and that viewers can also be aware of this, but the idea that the characters are also aware of this surprises me, so I’d appreciate it if you or others could expand on this.
No, I don’t mean they are aware they are in a fictional world, I mean that they are using fiction or narratives to organize or give their world meaning, so we are responding to the characters as much through their conscious attempts to to that. So we are responding to the narratives they are creating as well as the one they are a part of. That these two sets of narratives correlate with each other is what creates the layering I was referring to.