From that distant shot of the suite at night, we cut to an overhead shot of Francis the next morning. He seems to be lost in thought, possibly concerned over the direction the journey has taken, or that which it hasn’t taken. Whatever the case his attention is drawn to the glasses Peter has been wearing throughout the film; their father’s glasses. Francis examines them and then tries then on for a moment. The suggestion here might be that he is trying to see things like his father, or Peter, or both, or that he is trying to understand the relationship between Peter and their father as there has been some suggestion that Francis feels threatened by Peter in that regard, perhaps because Francis doesn’t believe he feels the same sense of loss or that he felt the same sense of closeness to their father when he was alive. There is also some indication that Peter’s adoption of their father’s effects has made Francis feel like Peter is a sort of threat to his role as the “head” of the brothers, whereby Peter, by taking on something of the father might be trying to take his place in a way which Francis isn’t comfortable with for reasons which are unclear. In other words, there might be some lingering discomfort with their father on Francis’ part even as he also mourned his loss.
Whatever the cause, which likely isn’t even clear to Francis, the glasses confuse him. After he puts them down he asks a question aloud, to whom it is addressed, whether Peter or both Peter and Jack isn’t entirely clear, “Do you trust me?” is all he says before being interrupted by the sound of something moving on the roof of the train. Where Francis was headed with that question will not be resolved as the interruption takes the brothers in a different direction.
Visually this scene should be noted for how uncluttered it is. None of their father’s luggage is in sight, just the glasses, and they are the subject of a sort of questioning. We see mostly white with a little border of blue from the floor suggesting at least a somewhat different line of thought on Francis’ part then what we’ve seen represented before. This is further emphasized by Francis being the object of an overhead shot which has been used in a different manner to this point, which we touched on before.
The sound rouses Peter and Jack who seem not to have heard or at least do not acknowledge Francis’ question. Looking out the window they find the train has stopped, which arouses their curiosity so they go to see what has caused their trip to come to a halt.
Before moving on, I think I should take a moment to reemphasize something to which we talked about earlier and which I tried to allude to above but which I’ve decided could stand to be rendered more plain in light of what’s to come. One of the interesting things about the glasses is that, in concrete or “real” terms prescription glasses are only of use to a single person; the one for whom the prescription was made. yet in the film these glasses have some other “use”, and that is part of what’s causing the tension between Peter and Francis. When Francis examines the glasses and puts them on, we might say that he is trying to interpret them in a sense, that he is trying to find out what they “mean” basically. Whether he is doing so to better understand Peter or Peter’s relationship to their father of to try to adopt the meaning the glasses hold to Peter for himself isn’t entirely clear, but the desire to understand their symbolic or totemic function does seem evident.
The examination and temporary donning of the glasses signals a difference between how Francis thinks of them and how Peter does. To Francis the issue is in Peter taking possession of the glasses, it isn’t in wanting to wear them for himself. The glasses serve to him more as representative of the brothers, and by extension the family’s power structure, whereas Peter’s use of the glasses signal a different meaning for them; The glasses themselves seem to hold a sort of “power” that isn’t reducible to secondary representation. They don’t just stand for something, they’ve become something to him. By being aware of that, at least to some degree, that increases the tension between them as that “meaning” itself, since it isn’t shared, furthers their divide. It is suggestive perhaps of some “hidden” relationship to which Francis does not or did not have access. Clearly Francis isn’t thinking directly in those terms, but it also seems clear that the difference in “meaning” those glasses hold is bothering him as it suggests a separate perception of things common to both of them, a different “story” in a way, which may be more “true” than the one Francis has believed, or has wanted to believe all along.
For Peter the glasses seem to be some sort of tangible link to some intangible aspect of his father, or of his particular relationship to his father. For Francis, at first, objectively, they seem to be more of just a part of his father’s estate in the ordinary sense, but at the same time, Peter’s taking them and his wearing them seems almost to tweak a sense in Francis of uneveness between the relationship Peter had with their father and the relationship he himself had with his father.
One other thing I neglected to note above which figures into something mentioned earlier is that when we see the brothers standing on the platform of the last car smoking cigarettes, we might note that platform is on the luggage car which goes to notion that the luggage and train are linked in some fashion, this time perhaps going a little further to suggest that the journey itself is becoming “luggage” in a sense. (I’m a little surprised Matt hasn’t called me out yet on missing that earlier. Getting lazy Matt? ;) )
Moving on, finally, the unscheduled stop rouses the brothers from their suite to see what’s happened.
The brothers step out of the train into what appears to be a desert region complete with camels. They look around at the unfamiliar landscape briefly then ask Brandon, who is with some crew members with a map, what’s going on. They’re told the train is lost, that it must have made a wrong turn during the night. Jack finds this hard to understand given the train being on rails. When asked where they are, Brandon replies they don’t know, they haven’t located us yet. Francis takes this statement, and thus their predicament as symbolic, a sign signalling concordance with their own troubles, and the thing is he is “right” in a sense. The train journey and the brothers journey has been aligned in such a way that the fictional representation of the world and the implied emotional difficulties of the brothers are aligned from our point of view. The fiction of the story is emphasized through this as the symbolic becomes actual. While in the “real” of the fictional world which the brothers inhabit this is seen by Francis as more of a metaphysical alignment. Where they are given a “sign” that accords with their needs. We may also assume that to those who aren’t the brothers in the film, this event is viewed in yet another way, as merely a “real” problem without an implied authorial “cause”; it’s just a normal misfortune in other words. To give some indication of these various intersecting “meanings” for the scene we are shown not only the named characters, the ones with whom we primarily identify, but the secondary characters, the German women and the brother’s former table companion, as well as tertiary characters like the crew members trying to figure out where they are, as well as figures which don’t “fit” the story exactly, but seem to exist as a sort of representation of a different layer of “real” in the film, the little boy standing on the can being the foremost example. His existence in the story serves no purpose or connection to the brothers like the secondary and tertiary characters do to varying degrees, he is not fictionalized in other words, he stands as a sort of representation of a real to which the brothers do not have access and to which we might understand as being closer to our own “real” than the other fictive layers in the film.
The emphasis on the symbolic driven by the overdetermined nature of Anderson’s representation of certain elements can be seem to cause this sort of divergence of layers. It signals an overt creator of the fiction we are watching as the events are shaped by the needs of the brother’s story, while also suggesting a connection to how we think of the symbolic or “signs” in our world where, unlike a fictional one, an “Author’s” presence might be inferred through how we interpret “signs” in our own lives. This goes back to the idea of the luggage as well as history, in this way, is authorial, it shapes our lives without being “present” in the concrete sense of the term. (We’ll come back to that last idea again soon, and the rest of these ideas will continue to come up throughout the remainder of the discussion as well.)
Now, I can sense hesitance in following me on this as it seems like I might have gone full-Kubrick and am extrapolating far too much from a limited set of objects and information, and in a sense there is some truth to that as well. I am “creating” a reading of the film based on applying the essence of what is shown to what seems to be the central concern of the characters in the film, the question of who they are, how they ended up as they did, and where they are going from here. If that is accepted as a primary theme of the film, then from that the essence of the story is mapped on to the “real” concerns we might face over these issues as represented through the story of the film. So, in that sense, the story of the film, the story of the brothers, is a search through personal history, religion, place, and interaction in hopes of uncovering the “truth” of their lives. The various layers of representation I am suggesting the film might be seen as having are those which are summoned to my attention through the differing modes of presentation these characters/people are given and the emphasis placed on certain items and events which, while they do not necessarily"say" anything directly or which can be given objective validation, can hold inferred purpose or value when applied to the question at hand through my own thinking on it as it pertains to our “real” as it “matches” what I apprehend to be the use of these things within the film. In that then I hope that it can be felt that I am adhering to the contours of the film while allowing suggestion to “fill in” the space between the fictive world and our own. After all, that is how art is felt, in the tension created from an imposed perception as it relates to our own over an understanding of the “real”. Enough of that for now, I mention that not as much to be defensive as I do in hopes of keeping however few passengers I have on this journey from disembarking at this point.
Back to the scene, Francis’ decision to interpret the stop as being symbolic leads him to ask for the peacock feathers and instructions form the guru again so that the brothers can engage in a ceremony of their own. (Oddly, Brandon say he gave those items to Francis “this morning” which by the events of the film simply isn’t true, as we saw him give them the items after their stop at the Temple of 1000 Bulls. A continuity mistake perhaps as I can’t attribute much other significance to the remark that wouldn’t be a reach beyond what even I’m comfortable with, other than perhaps thinking one could take this as some indication of the fictive or use it in a psychological reading, neither of which seem all that compelling to me using the statement on its own, but which don’t really interfere with some possibilities I guess. The lack of greater emphasis on the remark leads me to treat it more as a curiosity than anything else at this point though.)
The entirety of this scene is filmed in one shot, following the brothers, then anticipating their movements or locating the sounds they hear by use of whip pans. Like the earlier scene in their suite, this isn’t used for purposes of identification with the characters ala Goodfellas nor to build a sense of tension, and it is only mildly “dynamic” in the sense it isn’t doesn’t call excessive attention to itself through the length of its use or the difficulty involved in creating the shot, nor does it seem to act as a way to emphasize some high drama for the characters. Instead, the two uses long takes I’ve mentioned have both been used during scenes with relatively little movement, and both took place just after the brothers awoke suggesting perhaps a slight disorientation as well as giving some sense of the “fictive” through the way the camera anticipates movement and through its location at the center of the events. Like so many things I haven’t drawn attention to as they don’t really fit in with this kind of examination of a film, it is somewhat humorous as is Jack’s line about a train being on rails and much of the other actions and vocalizations from the actors. I hope to speak some more about them and other “surface” concerns as we go, (with the caveat that its hard to keep all of these things in mind or provide them all equal attention at once, so no guarantees), since concern for the “surface” of the film will also have further implications for that which might lie underneath as well as how we respond to any of it. The style and sense of humor Anderson exhibits in his films is central to how we apprehend them.
Not thinking particularly clearly tonight, but like where this is going.
At the end of the last scene and the long take, Francis tells his brothers to meet him on top of the hill next to the train and he’ll meet them up there. We cut to the top of the hill where Peter and Jack are waiting for Francis. It’s a mostly barren space save for some sparse vegetation and three bright red flags or banners. We can then see Francis cresting the hill in a impressive looking shot where the train is a thin blue line which bisects the screen, with Francis in his white pajamas cutting that line in half as he comes up the hill and towards the camera. the vast landscape behind him is as barren as the hilltop. The predominant color is a sort of tannish yellow, matched by the envelope Francis is holding in his hand. The blue of the train is faintly echoed in the dusty blue of the sky, and Francis’ pajamas find their own additional highlight in the color of the few buildings off in the distance.
Once Francis reaches his brothers, they join hands and form a equilateral triangle. Francis starts to relate what the guru told him for the ceremony but stops shortly after beginning. It seems as if he may have forgotten the instructions, and possibly that is so, but after a pause, instead of trying to continue the rite, Francis asks the same question he asked in the suite before they noticed the train had stopped; “Do you trust me?”. Just as in the suite Francis receives no reply. This time however we can see that Peter and Jack are choosing not to reply to Francis’ query. They seem uncertain of what to say, perhaps because they don’t know if they trust Francis, or perhaps they don’t answer because they don’t really trust him but don’t want to say so, or maybe they are just waiting to see where the question leads. It leads to the reason Francis brought them on this trip, to go to their mother who is living in a convent at the foothills of the Himalayas. Francis had hired a private detective to track down where she was and they’ll be there in six days.
This information tells us that it isn’t just a question of their mother being hard to reach, as we knew from Francis’ conversations with Brandon, or that she might have reasons for not wanting to see them, but that she had actively chosen to disappear from their lives, so much so that Francis required special means to find her. We also come to better understand that the spiritual quest is something of a sideline to the main reason for the journey, which alters the weight we might put on different events we’ve seen so far. Interestingly, by abandoning the rite which Francis had assembled the brothers on the hilltop to do, the “symbolic” purpose or meaning of the train being lost and them being here has also shifted somewhat. The question of “trust” arising when Francis reveals deceit is also worth noting as we’ve seen Francis has had a history of saying something his actions contradict, but in a way that exhibits no awareness of that contradiction. Francis seems able to hold contrary beliefs as simultaneously true, something that isn’t as clearly denoted, but also isn’t that far off the mark for the other brothers as well. That Francis needed to deceive his brothers into a trip to visit their mother is something we’ll get into a little next time.
Right . . . it’s interesting that up to this point that the journey of the film has been presented largely in terms of a sort of (albeit vaguely defined) spirtual “journey” which thus Jack and Peter have been more or less led to believe is the purpose of the trip. Now is revealed that Francis also had a more pragmatic purpose—to reunite the brothers with their mother. And at this point at least, it isn’t entirely clear what the relationship between these two purposes is. It seems possible that the film might be on the verge of “taking a new track” at this point (abandoning the spiritual quest and becoming a simple family drama about the brothers reuniting with their mother), but . . .
Trying to get a read on the brothers and their motives or wants is tricky since they aren’t linear. Francis seems to legitimately desire some spiritual something, and that is clearly what Peter is interested in, who knows what Jack wants in that regard, maybe not even Jack does. At the same time Francis is showing little real determination to work towards anything spiritual as he is always being side tracked, while Peter seems the most put out by being around the other two, particularly Francis, which suggests he would be better off on his own, but that doesn’t seem like something he wants to do either as he kinda needed Francis to lead on this.
“Francis seems to legitimately desire some spiritual something, and that is clearly what Peter is interested in, who knows what Jack wants in that regard, maybe not even Jack does.”
Yeah, though one could argue, I think, that the spiritual search and the mother search at least potentially risk being at at cross-purposes, even if they might be connect “symbolically” both by the viewer and by Francis himself. Francis seems to be relying on the two inquiries being parallel rails, so to speak.
Absolutely. To Francis the two activities are parallel, and that might be part of the reason why he hasn’t been able to focus on just the spiritual aspect of the quest as reaching and “saving” their mother is intimately tied into the thought of it. We can see how Francis sees the two things being linked a little by how he passes out the peacock feathers after telling his brothers about going to see their mother. For him the plan seems to be to perform the rite with the idea of visiting their mother in mind, This clearly doesn’t fit with Peter’s idea of the journey and points to something that will even be more obvious later, which is how he and Francis have “sided” with different parents in a way. For Peter this is still about their father, while for Francis, it is becoming more clear this is more about their mother.
During the conversation, Peter asks whether their mother will want to see them, Francis says she probably doesn’t, but maybe she does. Which suggests for him it the journey is being undertaken partly in hopes that she does want to see them, and as he goes on to suggest, or to save their mother who’s probably suffered some sort of nervous collapse, which is another fantasy as the rest of what he says indicates this isn’t unlike her at all, so there isn’t much reason to project a nervous collapse being the cause other than a perverse sort of hope that there is some other reason for her not being in touch than she just hasn’t wanted to be.
Jack’s question about how their mother’s situation is possible seems to suggest some question about how a mother can be in a convent as being a mother runs counter to the idea of virginity or purity which convent life is linked to. One’s mother being in a convent has something of a negating effect, as if she is erasing, or perhaps more appropriately, could be seen as a renunciation of her children and the familial part of her past. There is something disturbing about it in other words. one could reference this to some of the questions Ozu’s films raise about adult children and the loss of one of their parents. The desire to maintain an idea of a sort of pure regard for the deceased parent conflicts with social norms and sometimes desires in the continued life. Here the idea is given something of a twist as the mother being in a convent takes the sort of conflict at the center of some of Ozu’s films and pushes it further so the remaining parent isn’t just renouncing future partners, but more fully renouncing her past life. But this is getting ahead of the film which is only just beginning to hint at the relationship and what it might mean, so I"ll leave this as something to think about for now and return to it later when the brothers reach the convent since that further reveals the complexity of the families interrelationship.
We can note here how Francis says he was trying to protect his brothers from painful emotions, which shows something of how he seems to view himself in relation to them, a protector and one in charge who has taken on something of the weight of this pain himself. This goes a little further in explaining his actions so far and perhaps why he has done them. He thinks he has to it seems. In some sense he may be right as this trip and the visit to their mother wouldn’t have occurred without his deceit, which Peter makes clear, so the reunion and subsequent events can be seen to, in a way, come from the mother as she appears the be the driving force for the journey and with whom Francis seems to most strongly identify. When Peter asks Francis if he isn’t doing exactly what he said he was trying not to do, stir up painful emotions, Francis takes this to indicate Peter, like him, is scared of the reunion with the mother, which I suggested above was due to some hopeful emotions or wants which he fears might not be sated. Scared, however, might not be the best way to characterize Peter’s feelings on the subject as he seems to be more angry than desirous. If he is scared, that fear quite possibly comes from another place than does Francis’ fear, more perhaps out of a desire to repress his feelings about their mother out of some uncertainty of how they will be aroused, or how he would react on seeing her. In other words, for Francis this trip seems to hinge more on how their mother receives him, while for Peter the concern is more about how he will respond to her. Jack remains largely enigmatic other than he doesn’t seem all that keen on the trip one way or the other and seems more divided in allegiance than his brothers, which makes sense given how they each try to look after him or otherwise take him as an ally even when Jack hasn’t indicated any preference of his own.
Visually we can note that Peter is still wearing the headscarf from the last temple, and is in his dress shirt and boxers suggesting an unconcern with appearance or a deteriorating outer aspect. Jack is back in his Chevalier robe suggesting a disconnection with the here and now and a desire to return to a previous state in some way, and Francis is in his pajamas. None seem put off by being out in such attire, which reminds me a little of the common dream of being in public in one’s underwear, which along with the other common dream of being in a vehicle which you can’t control, might both be apt analogs for the brother’s states of mind.
The brothers descend the hill without having even tried the ritual Francis was urging on them, and they seem to be moving away from each other again after a brief moment of potential reconnection. Francis chides Jack for drinking a whole bottle of cough medicine saying it is a stupid way to get high, which leaves us a little unsure whether it is the getting high that is the issue or the method, but I think we can presume the latter.
There’s likely more that can be said about this scene given the comparative wealth of dialogue, but I don’t have the time now to do so and it attacking it in more precise detail might not prove all that more advantageous anyway given the continuing nature of the issues at hand. Still, please feel free to add anything I’ve missed as I didn’t go through this part of the scene in continuity, but jumped around a little more than usual to try and get at the things I found most interesting while I had the time.
From Francis’ mention of Jack getting high on cough syrup, we cut to a shot of the brothers “medicine” to punctuate the idea. A quick pan takes us to the brothers sitting next to each other in their suite. Francis has a plate in his lap and Peter is holding a diagonally cut half of a toasted sandwich, possibly grilled cheese. The brothers appear disgruntled, but Francis wants to go back to business as usual and discuss the itinerary. Peter is opposed to this, to say the least, and appears to have decided to not hold in his feelings about it. Peter’s blunt response leads to Francis asking for his special made 6000$ belt back, a request which Peter refuses to accept as “There’s been too much Indian giving over the years.” Their disagreement drives Jack out of the room.
Throughout the movie our sympathy has shifted from brother to brother depending on the context of the events. During the stop at the Temple of 1000 Bulls we were led to identify more with Peter, during the events we just covered, Francis was the main figure of identification. Here the brothers are visually united, but clearly at odds with each other and our we aren’t being asked to identify very strongly with any of them. The way they are seated has them hemmed in by luggage on either side, and the paneling behind them creates something of a feeling of being encased as the wood panel is more or less the same color as the luggage. This suggests a return to the feelings which had been causing their separation. The sandwich Peter is holding adds a little bit of a triangular element to the scene perhaps suggesting his discontentment. It also calls to mind Jack’s order of grilled cheese in Chevalier, which might suggest it as a sort of comfort food, something they associate with their past. (Consumption of food and drink is used frequently in the film in a way which perhaps suggests it acts as a sort of substitute of some sort.)
Peter’s aggression towards the itinerary seems to not only be anger at Francis for deceiving them, but also might indicate a desire to give up on the spiritual quest. All in all this feels like a retreat and retrenchment of their positions. Peter’s line about “Indian giving” racially insensitive at the best of times, here becomes even more tactless on its surface given their location, but it also suggests something of the ebb and flow of the movie, where any step forward is almost immediate followed by it being taken back. The line also goes to further establishing some idea of their shared past as well as indicating that the Peter’s anger isn’t just based on being tricked into seeing their mother, but might also come from a feeling that he felt this was going to be a trip about their father and now that has been taken away.
Jack fleeing the room gives us some idea of what has caused some of his silence over many of the problems between them, as he seems to prefer flight to fight, but it also suggests perhaps something about his other relationships, like that with his girlfriend if we assume this pattern to hold. Something of the same may also be assumed for Peter and Francis, not only around the idea of how they may have acted under duress, but how they all might have learned to act given the little bits of information we have about their parents. This then might be a sort of reenactment of a larger family dynamic.
Yeah, here we’re back in the compartment and back to a sort of visual signature of Anderson, the planimetric composition..
It’s interesting here that we get the verbal reference to the cough syrup, then the shot of the bottles lined up planimetrically, then this shot is sort of visually rhymed with a planimetric shot of the brothers sitting in the compartment lined up perpendicular to the camera with the baggage and shoulder to shoulder, which creates a kind of association between the brothers and the cough medicine bottles, droppers and such.
I don’t think I’m going to add another group of stills tonight as my time is short, but I’ll surely try to get a bunch more posted this weekend.
Instead, I want to draw a little attention to how well Anderson uses dialogue or even just how closely his films pay attention to words. I talked a little about the way the term “Indian giver” in this context was able to take on multiple meanings simultaneously, and that is an obvious and perhaps slightly forced example of the way that what is said can be understood as meaning more than one thing at once. We also discussed the way the vagueness of the dialogue used in Chevalier could lead one to assume certain things about the relationship at one point, based on identification and perhaps convention, while later, if given closer inspection, the dialogue is found to be slipperier than it first appeared and the same discussion could mean something quite different hindsight.
In the scene on the hilltop there is another example I want to bring up, one which is entirely simple in its form as it is just the repetition of a single word. I’ll repost the stills for clarity:
The interest for me in this exchange is the reuse of the word “apparently”. It struck me as somehow oddly humorous and appropriate when I first heard it being repeated by Francis in answer to Jack’s repetition/question about their mother becoming a nun. I thought it might be the repetition itself which made for that, but when I tried substituting another word for apparently, like evidently, or a phrase like so it seems, the dialogue didn’t work the same way at all. It was only after thinking of the word apparently itself that I felt the reason for my response was more clear as “apparently” contains the word parent within it which is evoked strongly when spoken. The mother’s role as parent makes the connection between the word and its use more forceful than an alternative, yet more than that, with the prefix “a” attached it then negates the connection to parenthood in a way as the “a” can be thought of as being used as it would in asocial or apathy where it takes the meaning of “not”. The repetition of apparently then draws attention to a word which can be parsed as not parently or unparently, which is what I concluded both amused me and led me to think of the convent representing a mother’s abdication of her role and read that into Jack’s response on the idea of their mother in a convent.
Now I don’t mean at all to suggest that this was chain of logic was intentionally evoked or expected by Anderson, I have no idea on that, but the appropriateness of the word in the circumstance automatically led me to think of the mother’s role and her choice to become a nun more concisely than I would have with another word in substitution. There are some other instances of excellent word choice I want to call attention to later some more clearly “meant” to draw inferences from and others that are “mean” through their appropriateness to the circumstance described.
Edit: Of course one shouldn’t neglect to mention Owen Wilson’s delivery of the word as a sort of necessary addendum to the phrase “become a nun” as being every bit as significant in how I took it to “mean”..
That’s an interesting point. “Apparently” also has to do with being visible on the surface, and, as we’ve already suggested in several contexts, it’s interesting the degree to which Anderson uses visible things in the frame to suggest a sort of psychological depth to the characters that isn’t necessarily explored in detail in the narrative action of the film (or sometimes it’s explored later in the course of a given film).
According to Ye Olde Dictionary of Arcane Usages, “apparent” also used to commonly denote something that was inherited—a notion that’s also clearly at play in this film as well (so, if one were fancifully inclined, that could be run with).
But, yeah, in addition to the other possibilities, I definitely think reading “apparently” as a suggestion “apparentally” clearly makes sense in context.
Anderson’s, and his cowriters, use of dialogue seems to be one of the things many people find too “precious”, but I tend to really like the unusual emphasis he gives to the words themselves rather than relying on strictly functional and therefore more “real” dialogue. The oddness calls attention to itself no doubt, but that needn’t mean it is merely decorative.
And you’re right to mention the importance of the “visible” to the film as that idea will come up again later more significantly.
(By the way, I wasn’t aware that apparent once was connected to inherit. That’s almost too perfect in this context.)
I want to take another moment to express my appreciation for this thread. I am leaving for a backpacking trip in Glacier NP next week (so I’ll be off the grid), but when I get back I hope to pull out my DVD of The Darjeeling Limited and try to catch up with you guys. I doubt I’ll have much to add, but just wanted to continue to encourage.
Oh, I love Glacier . . . hope you have a great time, and looking forward to you have some thoughts to contribute here.
Thanks for the note Nathan I appreciate it and I also look forward to any comments you might have on the film whenever you get a chance to post next. Enjoy Glacier! It’s a beautiful spot.
From the argument between Francis and Peter we cut to the staff’s quarters where Jack is pounding on Rita’s door. Jack first asks if he can switch compartments, but that is not only not possible, it doesn’t seem to be entirely the reason why he is there. Rita seems to notice this as well as Jack is clearly disturbed by something. He asks if he can kiss her, and after a pause she says no. In part, I suspect, because the question seems to be less about her or his desire for her than it from a need to quell his agitation.
Jack is confused by her rejection based on the fact that they had sex before, which leads to a sense that he has an expectation that isn’t accounting for the interests of Rita but is based more on his needs alone. Rita, however, isn’t entirely impervious to his request as her back pedaling on her relationship status suggests. Again, her reluctance seems to be based more on Jack’s affect than on the idea of the request itself. Jack switches track and says he really needs to talk to someone right now and thinks that Rita could be an important in his life. This seems more honest and she accedes to the request. During the brief dialogue Rita’s appearance indicates some openness to Jack as she takes off her glasses and as we can eventually see that her dress is unzipped in the back leading to a feeling of desire being present in the scene, but a desire which is countered by her reading of Jack’s manner of approach, which seems so different than their first encounter.
After being let into the room in order to talk, Jack immediately presses himself on Rita suggesting that the interest in talk wasn’t entirely honest. As the call bell buzzes, Rita kicks Jack out of her room into the passageway where he desperately pounds on her door before being sent back to confinement with his brothers by the head steward, who is also Rita’s boyfriend.
In this scene we can see Jack as deeply troubled by the events in the brothers suite and as someone who uses people to escape those sorts of problems. His previous silence looks less like a sort of stoicism, which is common to many film protagonists, and more like fear. That in itself is noteworthy given how unusual it is to ask an audience to identify with someone so clearly at the mercy of emotions which arise not from physical threat but memory and weakness. Jack’s past experience causes him to act in ways which push the boundaries of identification through not only showing him to be manipulative, but by giving us some indication of the reasons behind his manipulation. Reasons arising from emotional disturbance coming from his inability to confront or process his emotional past and therefore deal with its present incarnation. Jack becomes something like a child using adult relationships for comfort in order to hide from the things which are the cause of his distress. His previous assumed appearance of quiet confidence or disinterest is shown to be a guise her adopts in order to keep from having to face the underlying problems. This, of course, should directly effect our understanding of his relationship with his girlfriend shown in Chevalier as well as give us a greater image of the brothers home life as they were growing up. There is tension in how we might relate to Jack in this scene as his pain evokes some sympathy and Rita’s hesitant desire allows us to still see him as someone attractive, but we also are being asked to identify with much less attractive qualities given his fear and manipulation of Rita. This pressures the viewer to either withdraw their sympathy or to locate some of the same “narrative” issues in their own lives which leads to discomfort of a sort which is at odds with more normative projections of identity onto the characters of a film. It becomes hard to align ourselves with Jack, and yet also hard to reject him which is more or less congruent to Rita’s reaction.
If the question of Jack’s relationship to his girlfriend was in question before, it is even more clearly so now as some of the drive which animates Jack’s relationships has been uncovered and it speaks not only to how he might have faced any argument with her, but with how he may have dealt with the aftermath. His girlfriend’s question about Jack being faithful is now shown to be an entirely reasonable one, and the cause of his flight to Paris is also brought into question as to how much of it is “on her” and how much comes from Jack’s own inability to cope with difficulty. At the same time, his attraction to Rita might suggest that he is drawn to women who also have some trouble committing to a relationship and who also “resolve” their problems through a process not unlike Jack’s own. An attraction based more on supporting and sustaining mutual weakness rather than it is on more positively realized desire and interest in the other.
What we see in Jack can also be read back into the actions of Francis and Peter and their actions as they too seem to be the twisted expression of repressed emotion. In essence, their actions are not entirely their own but are formed by the press of conflict which molds their behaviors even as it does so without the stamp of history making visible its full design. The machinery of our actions recreates the design without the need for reference to the original as the marks made by history are self-replicating.
Didn’t really want to delve into this delightful thread without first seeing Darjeeling Limited. Having done so, I can now begin to appreciate the meticulous and highly ingenious insights Greg has provided to the film by taking it apart, scene by scene. Greg, I seem to recall you saying you wanted to do this type of commentary for a film (much more specific than our general film comments). Nice to see this work-in-progress, Greg, with some excellent commentary from Matt and others.
Like Jazz, I didn’t warm to the film the way I did to Moonrise Kingdom. I have several problems with the characterizations, but Greg’s detailed analysis is bringing a film that I found a bit frustrating more to life. Shows us what can be done if we take the time and energy to really try to get at what the filmmaker is doing, giving the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt. It would be nice to see these type of more in-depth discussions/criticisms on the forum.
Anderson is always entertaining and puts a lot of effort into his cinematic constructs. Greg, and others, have noted how he uses colors effectively, is careful with his framing, is meticulous with his detail, uses music as an interesting commentary, and likes meta-constructions (stories within stories). The analysis of the Hotel Chevalier sequence is of benefit, because, out of context, this can seem an unnecessary add-on to the film. As I understand it, the Hotel Chevalier sequence was an independent short that Anderson tacked onto the film, providing it as a representation of Jack’s rather autobiographical fiction (even though Jack initially denies that it is a reflection of his own – or his brothers’ – reality.
I think Bill Murray was criminally under-utilized in this film. It’s more of a ploy to present us with a lame duck action flick spoof teaser than anything relevant to the film (as has been duly noted). I guess Murray is under contract to do these walk-on parts in Anderson’s films now – ha! He could once be a sort of lead, but is now relegated to just being some comic backdrop to the main action.
(No need for spoilers in these discussions re the film, eh, as we assume those reading the thread have seen the film – or aren’t bothered)? Looking ahead a bit…
It has already been discussed how the hotel sequence mirrors the train sequences in terms of framing/purpose. I’ll be interested in Greg’s (or anyone’s) take on the sequence near the end of the film where the film’s main characters, including Murray and Jack’s hotel girlfriend, all reconnect. Is this meant to be a commentary on the relationship of the compartment/confined space motif discussed earlier in the thread? Surely, it’s not meant to be realistic.
Also, I found Huston’s character very much a cypher – under-drawn and not that effective. She is apparently the purpose of the voyage but seems to be more of a blank-slate than a fully drawn character. Still, interested on Greg’s take and anyone else re her. Like Murray, I think Anderson criminally under-used this highly talented actress. How does the appearance of the mother in this context (ie, a nun in India) mirror the spiritual journey (if, indeed, there is one, and it’s not more about a voyage of self-identity/discovery) of the brothers?
I am interested to hear the take on the sad scene re the three boys in the water and the drowning of one of them. Is the parallel of the three boys with the three brothers of note? Also, is it significant as to which brother does NOT save the one boy? Interesting to see this type of melancholic scene in an Anderson film, where he is usually know for his dark comic turns.
I’ve been following the baggage/luggage discussion, too. I’ll be curious to hear the explanation as to the brothers seemingly resolving their issues somewhat at the end and leaving the ‘excess baggage’ behind.
But, I’m jumping ahead of the story, which I await new installments much like a Perils of Pauline (or Perils of Jack, Peter, and Francis in India) serial. Carry on deconstructing! Something out of nothing, indeed!
Finally, I noticed, just before watching it, that some of those whom I am following had rated this with everything from 1 out of 5 to 5 out of 5 stars. Greg’s detailed analysis of the film provides us a way of approaching the film whatever our own impressions of the film may be.
“is it significant as to which brother does NOT save the one boy?”
^Well, Matt, I thought it might be. I await yours (and Greg’s) explanation.
Now, is everything in a Wes Anderson film carefully pre-determined? I’m beginning to think so. In that case, maybe Greg doing a ‘full Kubrick’ on this film is not such a bad idea…
“What we see in Jack can also be read back into the actions of Francis and Peter and their actions as they too seem to be the twisted expression of repressed emotion. In essence, their actions are not entirely their own but are formed by the press of conflict which molds their behaviors even as it does so without the stamp of history making visible its full design”
Right. Oh . . . and the other thing I wanted to talk about was the Francis-Peter relationship. In the course of the narrative it’s suggested that Francis is “like” his mother, while Peter is more “like” his father (which sort of explains his interest in the personal items of his father that he’s brought with him). So one aspect of the conflict between the brothers could be read as a sort of recast replaying of certain aspects of the relationship between their parents.
" I thought it might be. I await yours (and Greg’s) explanation."
Yeah, Peter is actually to me the most interesting character in the film, so I’m looking forward to getting to that part of the film and how it might be thought to offer a kind of resolution to Peter’s biggest issue . . . but I want to wait until we reach that point in the film because I don’t want to miss the micro-characteristics of the film that Greg is going to help us discover between this point and there.
“Now, is everything in a Wes Anderson film carefully pre-determined?”
I believe that it is, yes.
Thanks, Matt – sure, good idea not to jump too far ahead at this point and let Greg get us there before commenting.
One aspect that does intrigue me (and also sort of irritated me) is the fact that throughout almost the entire movie, we see Francis in bandages. I found this a bit distracting, but realize it must be also a symbolizing of something else about him (ie, maybe referencing his being literally ‘damaged’ to match his also being psychologically damaged – as are all the brothers). Was I the only one who found this constant obvious reference to the bandages a bit disconcerting and prolonged?
I noticed in Moonrise Kingdom that one of the boy’s in the scout troop (although a minor character) has an obvious eye-patch on throughout. For those of you that have seen more of Wes Anderson film’s, is it typical for him to include a character who is similarly physically damaged/bandaged? Meaning what, exactly? It was interesting for me to just finish Kaurismäki’s The Man Without a Past (for the Cup) and then see this film. Both have a main character whose head is bandaged throughout (!!!). What’s with all the bandages (if anything), guys?
The inter-relationship of the brothers is the key to the film, of course, and shifts rather subtlely throughout. However, it does appear that Francis is trying to be the bossy ‘mother’ figure to his brothers (making the major decisions for them, etc). However, when we actually see the mother (Huston), it doesn’t seem that she is that bossy (in her currect incarnation, anyway), so it’s hard to see where that ‘bossiness’ originates in Francis. in fact, the real mother seems rather indifferent to their fate – totally the opposite of Francis. Anyone have any thoughts (eventually) re this apparent dichotomy of the mother’s perhaps former charactter with her present?
Again, if I’m jumping ahead, I’m prepared to wait.
Thanks for joining in Oxy, and my take on the questions you raise runs pretty close to Matt’s in regards to Peter and the boy and the mother. While it is jumping ahead a touch, I will mention what is already evident to anyone who has watched the film, (which I hope is everyone reading this thread, if not get to it) that Francis has adopted his mother’s method of control as we can note when she orders breakfast for the boys in exactly the same terms as Francis ordered for the brothers during their first meal together on the train. Matt is entirely right about the conflict between Peter and Francis then being able to be seen as a continuation of the conflict between mother and father where Peter has taken on the role of the father and Francis the mother as far as I see it. This is of central importance to how their we might interpret their actions and internal difficulties that they are attempting to locate and ideally resolve. There are a number of ways to then harness this idea to larger possible implications, but for more on that we will have to wait until the end since there is more that needs to be addressed before all those possibilities will be able to be fully discussed. Besides, putting such things off might guarantee there will be a few readers left when we get to that point just waiting to see how we try to tie things together.
As to the bandages, what you suggest is certainly valid, as is how all the brothers attire shifts, or doesn’t, through out the film, but I would also add that from what I’ve gathered it also references a Satiyajit Ray film, Sonar Kella or Golden Fortress, which I unfortunately haven’t seen that also has a character in similar bandages and a train trip in it. The synopsis of the film is suggestive, so if anyone has seen it I’d be interested to hear more about it. Here’s the IMDb synopsis;
Mukul, a six year old boy, is obsessed with drawing pictures of a golden fortress, and claims to have lived there in a past life. Hoping to better understand the boy’s condition, parapsychologist Dr. Hajra accompanies Mukul to search for the fortress. However, a newspaper story alerts a pair of crooks to the possibility of a hidden treasure. The boy’s father fears Mukul is in danger, and hires private detective Prodosh “Feluda” Mitra and his cousin Topshe to join Hajra and Mukul in Rajasthan. But the danger may already be closer than they realize.
Greg – Francis has adopted his mother’s method of control as we can note when she orders breakfast for the boys in exactly the same terms as Francis ordered for the brothers during their first meal together on the train.
Right, I had sort of already forgotten (!) that bit – which makes it a bit clearer as to the parallels with Francis and his mother. That’s why I am enjoying the running commentary, as it tends to bring these scenes back (like a re-watch).
I haven’t seen that Ray film, either, but I can bet that Anderson is referencing it, as you say he ‘borrows’ some music from Ray’s films for the Indian music in DL. If anyone has seen the Ray film, maybe they could comment on the connection. Now, we have Anderson taking a page from Tarantino with ‘in-house’ film references, just when I had him figured out to be a neo-Kubrick!
I feel like the dumb kid in Herr Professor Greg’s class with these questions, so don’t let them interrupt the flow. Matt is, of course, like that brilliant kid in class who always has the right answers to all the Professor’s observations – heh!
another little echo of his mother we’ve seen in Francis, earlier in the film Francis has his brothers make the little “let’s make an agreement . . . can we agree to that?” pact regarding the trip. When the brothers get to the convent, their mother has the boys make a similar pact and uses those same phrases.
What would be the coolest thing for Greg would be to put this all into a Blurb book.
It isn’t that expensive and the software is a snap to use.
Interesting. I think there might be some copyright issues if I tried to do anything with all these damn stills though, and it would have to be rewritten to be less conversationalish in some parts to make sense. Given the recent Mubi tomatosoup bar appeal for membership though I have been starting to capture previous posts of interest to save to my harddrive so just in case mubi go boom and disappear there is some possibility to rework them for a new format. Something I might suggest for anyone else who wants to have a backup of things which they might want to again refer.
I will definitely look into the blurb book though if I ever get around to doing something like this for some other films which I’ve had a long desire to say more about, I Walked with a Zombie being chief among them. This endeavor was more of an accident than a plan, which should be obvious from its rambling nature. Someone with a lick of organizational skills would have had a much better plan.
Sorry for the temporary delay in getting to the next segment of the movie, by the way. When I dreamed I was on a train in India yesterday I figured I should take a short break. I’ll post the next bit in a little while as we have just reached the heart of the film so we can’t leave it here.
loving the look of that Robert, am going to do one! Have been trying to do a scap book using online software but it’s proving difficult, this looks more straight forward and user friendly.
Re your idea for Greg, I would like this blurb book so that I might sit comfortably with a glass of wine, watch Darjeeling again and browse Greg’s analytic pearls (which I do not have the stamina to read at the computer,, hell I hardly had the staying power to load the page;) as I go, stopping to absorb and consider. That would be pretty cool I think.
“I have been starting to capture previous posts of interest to save to my harddrive so just in case mubi go boom and disappear there is some possibility to rework them for a new format.”
Yeah, I have recently started thinking along those lines as well.