greg x: If one doesn’t look at the interaction between character concerns and the world that has been created and tries to just base their appreciation on the form, it is valuing the world over those who live in it, in a manner of speaking.
I’m trying to understand what you mean here. Is this perhaps another way of saying that the “content” or “aboutness” of an artwork which tells a character-story is important to consider in relation to how it is “formed” and “styled” by an artist? In other words, that in a character-story film one ought to look for a unity of how the characters are stylised and structured to interact with the narrative or story of a film for a meaningful aesthetic?
If so, couldn’t “the interaction between character concerns and the world that has been created” be considered an element of the overall “form” or “style” anyway (rather than strictly belonging to “content”), at least in the realm of storytelling art such as cinema? I guess I can see why people would want to consider style separately from content, but I personally tend to think that the popular dichotomy of “style vs content” is not particularly useful in appreciating art, in that one ought to look at how they work together as a totality rather than to isolate them.
Sorry if I’m misinterpreting you here… :)
Flani, that part was mostly in response to an old thread I’d started on aesthetics where Clive Bell took the stance that form was what, in essence, made art art. There has been some modified revival of those sorts of beliefs through the work of people like Bordwell, and though they certainly aren’t anywhere near as absolute about it and wouldn’t agree with Bell, their manner of interpretation does often favor formal analysis at the expense of other relationships. Of course, just as pure formal analysis poses a problem ignoring form poses an equal problem, one which ignores the “world” of the characters and tends to judge everything by application or relation to the self, the “I didn’t relate to…” school. So, yes, in some sense the style vs content separation is misleading in a way, but that is often used as an excuse to not bother examining either rather than trying to see both, so there is some use for the division when looking at artworks, especially in recognizing the tension between them.
Robert, yes! That helps to clarify the notions I was dinking around with. The movement of Anderson’s films is, roughly speaking, from only seeing the presentation of things to seeing the thing in itself. The characters are so absorbed in their narratives that they mistake it for the thing in itself. By thinking in terms of there being a sort of narrative construction to their lives, they are implicitly allowing that there is a sort of “form” imposed on them which they must operate under and/or seek to manipulate to find fulfillment. The feeling of transition which ends the films comes from seeing beyond the boundaries of the imposed form to recognizing a different kind of possibility. How they might proceed from that point is an open question, hence the ambiguity of the endings as well as the limits of fictional narrative. One can’t very well show the realization of what can’t be presented after all.
Anyway, to at least get a start on the unavoidably delayed Darjeeling part of the thread…
The film opens in media res with the shot of a city, clearly not one in the “west”, and, as the caption above says, fast paced East Indian music playing. Music which, I should add, sounds second hand or like a recording of a recording rather than something made for the film. This establishes the location of the film as being somewhere in or near India and the tone of the movie as being an action film or, more likely a thriller of some sort. We are first “introduced” to a can driver, who, through his lack of discernible individual personality seems unlikely to be our “hero”, In this way it is somewhat similar to Chevalier where the movie opened on the hotel clerk rather than main characters. Before going further, this would be a good place to note that what we “know” about a movie going in will alter our understanding of the film as it progresses, which seems obvious, but which the film itself might not “recognize” as such or which it will simply ignore for its own purposes. How much we know about the later events of the movie will color our perception of this opening, pushing it from being “believed” to something we take in while waiting for the “real” story to start. With sufficient information, doing the latter is understandable, but it can also sort of blind us to how the opening is being used as we don’t accept it as part of the story proper, which is is and isn’t depending on how that idea is framed.
This further plays out when we are introduced to one of the “stars” of the film, Bill Murray who is the passenger of the cab. At this point we can start to think of the film in a number of ways based on what we know about it going in and perhaps in its possible relationship to Chevalier. Is this to be a comedy thriller of some sort, a sort of The Lady Vanishes kind of movie? Is Murray somehow connected to one of the characters in Chevalier? Is he the star of the film? Murray’s character doesn’t speak and shows only minimal personality traits, so perhaps not, but surely this has some larger connection to the body of the film. And of course it does but in an oblique way. The scenes with Murray operate as bookends to the main movement of the larger story, with the last section of the film being a coda, where something new is added.
… ignoring form poses an equal problem, one which ignores the “world” of the characters and tends to judge everything by application or relation to the self, the “I didn’t relate to…” school.
Yes, this is a common problem in critical analysis I think.
… so there is some use for the division when looking at artworks, especially in recognizing the tension between them.
This is a good point about recognising tension between style and content seen as tension is an important element in how we perceive and appreciate art, though “tension” requires how we look at both style and content working together rather than in looking at what they achieve in isolation I would think. Still, the division is important in this respect.
Anyway, this thread is looking interesting so now I’m gonna have to go and watch The Darjeeling Limited…
Please do, I would appreciate more criticism as I’m basically making this up as I go along hoping for some discussion to even out areas where I might be offbase or unclear, or where other ways of thinking could be proposed, especially in regards to the way style and content work to build a greater whole as that is what I’m primarily concerned with, however we want to parse the relationship between the two.
The Murray character is interesting in that he’s in a sense another apparently false point of entry into the film . . . you start off with the film seeming to be about Jack in Paris, then it switches to somewhere else, which I recognized as India as soon as Anderson shows the license plate on the back of the cab. Now it seems to be about Murray’s character, but then . . .
At the start of the movie then, we are introduced to a story already underway and are left to figure out what that story might be. From the speeding cab and the way Murray is leaning forward, in that ridiculous way people do when they are in a hurry as if leaning will incite the vehicle to move faster, we can gather the drive is a trip of some urgency. We see Murray looking out of the back of the cab and might assume there is some concern about being followed. We see him check his watch which almost certainly means he needs to be somewhere under time constraints. But beyond that we don’t have much to assemble into a story, and there likely is some suspicion this is for a reason as well.
The above stills give some indication that Anderson is using a mild form of intensified continuity, and this would be more apparent if we looked at a shot by shot analysis of the action. I say mild form because it doesn’t come close the the vigorous editing employed by someone like Bay or Scott at their most frenetic, but it does speak the language of action, and does so in a way that suggests some idea of the possibilities for that action as much as even more intensified cutting would when it is employed.
With around eighteen different set ups or significant reframings as well as some cuts back to already established viewpoints, Anderson is making use of the conventions of “action” filmmaking while perhaps also slightly teasing them as this is, essentially, just a cab traveling at a somewhat high rate of speed to a train station. Still, one can see the utility of intensified continuity as it is normally employed through Anderson’s use of the conventions. Individually, the shots don’t add much in the way of important information, they simply restate what we already know but with different perspective and emphasis. We get a feel for the action not only through the music, but by how we have to adjust ourselves to each new viewpoint to make sense of the action. Physiologically we are put into something of an excited state of perception through the use of these cuts as it takes a moment for us to register each change and connect it back to the whole. We do this instinctively through our familiarity with the convention and our innate desire to make sense of the pattern presented, but there is still a delay in processing the information as compared to a more continuous sense of the scene. Stills don’t really capture the feel of this, but they do show something of how illusory it is as the individual frames reveal little information. Even those focused on Murray or the cab driver show little in the way of emotion until they reach the station, so most of what we gather is picked up from cues from the filmmaking itself.
At first I thought he might be the father missing the train with his sons on it was the story of his life and relationship to them.
Anderson does this all the time, but when that Kinks song comes in, I was fully hooked.
Once Murray reaches the station and establishes the reason for his haste, Anderson picks up one of the other, more maligned, tricks of the action director trade by presenting a dislocational effect with his cutting that distorts our perception of the physical space of the train station. Murray sees the train departing which we perceive as happening moving off the left hand side of the screen, but when we cut to Murray chasing the train he is running towards the right hand side of the screen which violates our sense of the space to some degree. Given that we know the single purpose of Murray’s pursuit we aren’t confused by what he is doing, but we still get a sense of confusion from that dislocation. The utility of this is multifold, for practical purposes, like with the cab ride, it allows the filmmaker to create a sense of “excitement” without adding unnecessary physical elements which might otherwise detract from the scene, something like having Murray hurdle luggage carts or bump into other passengers for example. It also allows for the scene to play out without concern for the “reality” of the situation, by which I mean Murray is chasing a train for a few dozen yards which isn’t all that interesting to see in itself, would have to be carefully choreographed to get the speeds right to make it seem possible but unachievable without seeming “fake”, and more importantly, it creates a sort of relative or subjective space where we see the events more as they might be felt than as they would be experience physically. I mention all of this not so much because it is vital to this film, but because the clear and basic use of these elements here might help to better understand the more complicated use of them elsewhere as well as to point out Anderson’s awareness of these alternative conventions and how he can put them to use.
Going more towards our ends though, I would point out the relatively tranquil look to the Darjeeling Limited itself as compared to all the cutting around it. When we see the back of the train, Anderson does a slow pan from the boy at the door to the sign giving the name of the train, and the film. The boy is virtually immobile compared to everything else we are seeing which is either in motion itself or appears as if it is through the movement of the camera. This suggests the train is something of a different kind of space from what we’ve seen in the film up until now, and that will, of course, be dealt with in the bulk of our story.
Once the location of our story has been established, and our “hero” is seen still struggling to reach it we might expect any number of things could happen. The train might slow for Murray to catch it, the film might become about Murray’s ongoing attempts to catch the train if he does miss it this time or someone might aid Murray in reaching the train. This last possibility seems perhaps even more likely when we suddenly see someone running alongside Murray and then passing him. They exchange a look and the man runs past Murray off the screen leaving Murray looking confused.
As this happens different music kicks in, the Kinks, and the scene shifts to where we can see the distance between the train and the man running towards it, and instead of the faster paced cutting and movement from before, we see the man running in slow motion emphasizing the difference between him and Murray, or as it will turn out, his story and Murray’s as this man has effectively taken over the film from Murray, substituting his story for Murray’s character’s story, whatever that might have been. The man on the train, who we’ll soon find out is Peter, is a little smug about all of this as well. I would also note here that some attention is being brought to Peter’s glasses, and that there is some resonance with the line “I’ll leave the sun behind me” to Peter’s story later on if we think of sun as a homonym.
Pierre, that would have seemed like a pretty good guess to me Anderson being Anderson and all, and actually, it isn’t all that far from the story as it worked out, which might lead one to see the possibility of that sort of associative connection to the Murray character as he is left behind.
And, Matt, yes, I missed your comment earlier, but that sums up the feel here I think.
I should also mention that when the music, which Matt helpfully linked to, kicks in the sound takes on a different feel from the Indian music as the “tinniness” is gone and something more like a full sound range is established, further signalling the shift between the would be story and the one we end up with. The use of pop songs by Anderson is in itself interesting in terms of trying to think of how they “mean” within the context of a story they weren’t made for, as lyrics take on different associations. The overall tonal effect is fairly clear, and one can perhaps outline the main thematic connection between the song and the story, but how far one can go in that direction is hard to specify. That isn’t even getting into those questions about whether using pop songs with outside “meanings” to do some of the heavy lifting for the film is wholly justified or even broader questions about music and film which Anderson’s movies might be even more prone to having asked of them than other films.
Oh, and not to harp of the color thing, but to tie it back to “Hotel Chevalier” a little, here, trying to catch the train, you have a grey suited figure (“The Businessman,” as Murray’s character is credited, and then Peter) pursuing a figure in yellow (the guy on the back of the train).
Yeah, blue and yellow come up frequently in the film, perhaps colors of security and preservation in the way they are used, white also figures prominently, and all are ultimately contrasted against the red which dominates the decor of the train at the end of the film.
Edit: The grey of Murray’s suit and of Brody’s, being close to identical, also establishes a sort of link between them which could potentially speak to associations with the father or more directly to Peter, in which case the passing of Murray by Peter can be seen more as a type of implied transformation than substitution, which does fit with the paralleling used to introduce Brody, where it almost appears as if he comes out of the Murray character.
Back to the music for a moment, what is most apparent about the song is that it is a song about anticipation, and that it replaces the more anxious Indian music associated with Murray. The song is about “tomorrow” which goes back to something we were talking about earlier regarding Anderson’s films and the “now” in the way the characters often seem to be not living in the present in a sense. The song also provides something in the way of a contrast for tomorrow where they might be on a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea or will they still be there watching an inflight movie show, which can perhaps be seen as speaking a little to that “narrative issue” we were speaking of before as the contrasted experiences could be read as being the difference between experiencing the thing in itself or merely a presentation as being on the spaceship somewhere is contrasted with watching a movie. Perhaps that is reaching in terms of any intended understanding, but it is an available possibility. I would also then add that would echo to some extent the switch between Murray’s “fake” or unexplored movie and the one we end up with. This idea of representation and the “real” also ties back to the song playing in Chevalier and will also work into the film in other ways later on, so it isn’t simply in this song where one might find the notion. (In Chevalier, if you want a more precise reference, the song is based around the affectations of a girl who the singer knows in her “real” aspect, thus contrasting the two perspectives.)
“Pierre, that would have seemed like a pretty good guess to me Anderson being Anderson and all, and actually, it isn’t all that far from the story as it worked out, which might lead one to see the possibility of that sort of associative connection to the Murray character as he is left behind.”
Yeah, thematically that totally makes sense. Some of the details don’t seem to match up with the sense of father we get from the film later on, but then again, I don’t see why it would have to be a literal depiction of there father. Back when the film was released, Peter Travers wrote that Murray’s character “hauntingly evokes the paternal spirit in a mute cameo,” and that seems about right to me, even if we don’t assume that he’s a representation of their actual father. Anderson tends to prefer not to be pinned down to specific meanings in his films. When asked specifically about who “The Businessman” was by the USAToday, he said ""I don’t know that there is an explanation for what he means. Every person interprets it differently. I don’t want people baffled by it but intrigued — that might be great."
Yeas, absolutely, the links are more associative than strictly representational. One might think of Murray’s character evoking the world of the father, and that would then still fit with the sort of transformational connection to Peter as well, as Peter comes from that same world, and that is one of the central issues of the film.
If Peter was slightly smug about getting to the train while Murray is left behind, that feeling quickly fades or is adulterated with some further reflection. Peter lowers his glasses, glasses which will be of some interest later, and turns away and sees the impassive boy with the cricket bat which likely doesn’t add to any lingering feeling of satisfaction. At this point one of the more difficult aspects of the film first comes to light. That is the relationship, or lack thereof, between the brothers and the Indians they encounter. Anderson doesn’t overtly call much attention to this, but he does allow it to be noticed, which makes for an uneasy possibility of identification with the brothers. Here we see a little bit of the “real” world the brothers will be moving through but only glancingly engage with, and even that engagement is more on their own terms. We might also note that the song at this point could take on an ironic quality as Peter’s feelings and what we see no longer seems quite as promising as it did just a moment ago.
This is the absolute best thing happening on mubi right now. I wish I had the time to actually watch The Darjeeling Limited tonight.
Peter makes his way to the sleeping compartment the brothers will occupy, and has a cigarette and takes some pills or medicine of some sort, which is something of a contradictory set of actions, but one which will continue. We also now see the connection to Chevalier as Jack, who’s name is the first we are given, is also in the compartment, asleep. When Peter wakes Jack, Jack is visibly pleased to see Peter, as Peter also is to see Jack. After a moment, Jack asks if Peter has seen Francis, who then appears at the door as if summoned by the mention of his name. With Francis greeting Peter by name we know know our three main characters, but shouldn’t get used to seeing them happy as that will not be a state they obtain again for a while. Seeing Jack smile in particular is somewhat disconcerting given how little emotion he showed during Chevalier.
This meeting shows the characters at their happiest, but it also shows the compartment loaded with a set of matching luggage, visually filling/connecting the space and the brothers within it. As the film goes on, we might think of this then as a sort of baseline for both what they want and what is preventing them from getting it. The bags, it should be noted, match the woodworking of the train in coloration and also have elephants on them which matches the train decor. In a sense then, while the brothers are on the train, the bags might be thought of as being effectively invisible as they blend in so well with the train itself.
Yeah, this is where we finally get to the narrative action of the film proper.
That bit about the suitcases being invisible at this point is interesting. It made me think of (and apologies for jumping slightly ahead again) of Francis’s assistant, who he’s basically instructed to remain “invisible” while traveling with them.
One day a friend of mine praised Criterion as “Film school in a box, tuition $40.” This thread is film school on the ’net, tuition free.
“visually filling/connecting the space and the brothers within it.”
At the same time, though, it also acts of a sort of “spacer” here as the brothers initially come together. They’re sort of brought together by it and seperated by it at the same time, so it’s almost a “trapped in amber” kind of effect.
(Getting far behind)
We see Murray looking out of the back of the cab and might assume there is some concern about being followed. We see him check his watch which almost certainly means he needs to be somewhere under time constraints. But beyond that we don’t have much to assemble into a story, and there likely is some suspicion this is for a reason as well.
What is the likely suspicion?
All I get from the opening taxi sequence is that it’s an exciting, action-like scene. I’m also not sure about where the film is going (e.g., will it be about Murray? Who is he? etc.). Based on your comments, I don’t get the sense that you think there’s much going on formally, too—especially when you compare it to the Chevalier sequences. Is that right?
Wow! This is pretty interesting! Nice analysis with the photos. I can’t remember which person here put those up, but thank you! These interpretations of the film don’t totally change my view of the film, but they definitely might make me think a little different about it a little bit. I was just thinking. Do you think the Owen Wilson character, Francis, is based on St Francis of Assissi? I don’t really know much about St Francis of Assissi, but wasn’t he a person also on a spiritual journey like the three brothers as well? I haven’t visited this thread in a while and I found it very interesting when I paid a visit to this thread today. I like that analysis of colors. I also like those comparisons of other directors and how they shape their worlds of their films. Thanks for all the great posts everybody!
The man putting up the images is Greg X—who also happens to be “making up the commentary as he goes on(!)” (What a show-off, huh? ;)
Seriously, with some editing, I think some of your comments are close to publishable—or at least I think others would find your comments worth reading.
What I meant by “likely suspicion” in that context is that, by convention, the film is potentially leading us in a couple of different directions. A sort of trope of action/thriller movies is that a prologue can be used to show some idea of the threat which will be at the heart of the film. Usually in those cases, the movie will open on some relatively unknown actor engaged in actions which will bring him in contact with the threatening object which the bulk of the film will be dealing with. This contact will initiate the action of the film and often eliminate the character from the remainder of the story, or show him to be a kind of catalyst for putting the plot in gear, or otherwise render him unimportant physically to the film but significant in terms of the larger context. In contrast to that, in Darjeeling we have Bill Murray in the cab, he brings a different set of connotations in terms of his stardom and persona, and that works against the other premise to some degree, even while we note that Murray’s character isn’t given any significant personality, much dialogue or meaningful action to hint at a further integration into some larger whole which is more a characteristic of the first kind of prologue. The use of Murray then can be seen through both those lenses, which might help peak our interest while also being somehow appropriate to how the film does play out.
Matt, I completely agree with you on that and it might have been better to say that the luggage becomes effectively invisible as distinct objects and instead takes on the “personality” of its locale and connects or holds the characters in place through doing so.
Polaris, thanks for the kind words. I hope you’ll find time to make some comments of your own if you’ve seen the film since I’m no filmmaker and therefore don’t have either the lingo or the perspective of someone who is.
Hal, I don’t know if Francis is named for Francis of Assisi, but there is some interest in religion, at least as a concept, in the film so keeping that in mind might lead to some interesting associations, just as Peter’s name could be potentially understood from a religious context as well.
Oh, and by making it up as I go along I mean that I have a few things in mind which I want to draw some attention to, but the rest is mostly just trying to capture some ideas on how I am perceiving the film as it goes, though with the caveat that this process is different than an initial viewing of a movie which, for me, tends to be based on the feel I get from it which is then possibly reconstructed into something more meaningful from memory or used as a jumping off point for how I approach a repeat viewing.
Now that we’ve been introduced to the brothers, with Francis having a rather unexpected appearance due to apparent injury of some sort leaving Jack’s question to Peter, “Have you seen Francis?”, with a secondary implication, we are now introduced to another significant character, the conductor. Dressed in vibrant green, the conductor appears to be a Sikh, and he ascertains the identification of the brothers by addressing them in singular with their last name. This gives us the information as well as allowing for an implication of the three being or being seen as one, a sort of tripartite entity. I mention this since this is the kind of thing one might do well to pick up on and emphasize if you’re going to write a paper for film professor with an interest in psychological readings of films or the kind of thing one needs to go “full Kubrick” on an analysis. I don’t want to do that here, though at the end, if we ever get there, toying with some of those kinds of things might be interesting, if for no other reason than to get some better idea of how a film might be read according to different kinds of conventions.
The process of taking the tickets, punching them, and then hanging them up on the wall is a routine which will come back later and show some variation in the way the brothers handle it. In itself it isn’t it may not be significant, but it does speak to some change or adaptation on their behalf. Here, it is something of a clumsy process, where, along with the smoking, the brothers signal their unfamiliarity and some perhaps their expectations, meaning they seem not to be concerned with the rules of the train and just did what they wanted to do.
I have to leave it there for the moment, but will come back to this in a while to say something about some other possibilities regarding the color and other more general observations about the last couple of posts.
The Chief Steward, not conductor as I had it, is dressed in a lime green, with the yellow and blue of the train mixed in his turban. We will see variations of this combination serve as uniform colors for the staff on the train. While green is associated with nature, renewal, verdancy, and on the negative side, envy, and these qualities might be suggestive, his job, and demeanor also lead towards seeing him as a sort of protective figure for the train. The colors of the uniforms and the train are bright, almost exaggerated which might be seen as fitting the idea of “Indian adventure” suggestive of the sort of decor provided luxury accommodations for travelers in the real world, in the film or both. Travelers are often catered to by hotels and the like in the same sorts of terms as films cater to audiences regarding exoticism, but here there is something a little extra in the way the train feels so much more vibrant than the brothers and even the landscape they will be riding through. Almost like the train is overpromising or more of an ideal in some manner. This goes back to what I was suggesting earlier about Anderson’s films feeling responsive to the characters in some ways. Anderson exaggerates certain items and events to push them past “real” towards something more ambiguous or significant feeling. The luggage is the best example of that so far with its overlarge initials and abundant figures making them something hard to picture a normal man toting around, even more so given how large the collection is. We could likely come up with some plausible explanation for why this luggage exists, but that still allows for the point that we would almost need to do so since on its own it is hard to accept in real terms.
Oh, in case anyone is wondering, the portrait on the wall seems to be of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, which might be a small joke at the brothers expense given his association with ideas of national unity. I believe there is a portrait of Gandhi on the other wall which, while being ’true" to the place, could also be seen as serving a similar ironic function if one chose.
“Hal, I don’t know if Francis is named for Francis of Assisi, but there is some interest in religion, at least as a concept, in the film so keeping that in mind might lead to some interesting associations, just as Peter’s name could be potentially understood from a religious context as well.”
Yeah, I touched on this possible associations with back, I think, on page one, and I do think there’s a layer of that in the film (Francis’s bandages were inspired by a similarly bandanged man he saw, if I’m recalling correctly, at one of the churches in Rome). But just to be clear, Francis, Peter, and Jack are named for Francis Ford Coppola (co-writer Roman Coppola’s dad), Peter Bogdanovich , and Jack Schwartzman (co-writer Jason Schwartzman’s dad) . . . which to me makes the “father” issues in the film all the more interesting.