Is taking a spiritual journey on your list of things to do. Or have you taken a journey which turned out to be spiritual in some way without you planning for it. For me, the answer to both questions is yes AND no. You see, I don’t aspire to take a spiritual journey, nor have I found any spiritual events on my many journeys. In that sense my answers were truthful about the NO side of things
But, on the other side is the YES. That’s because I’ve taken a few spiritual journeys through the medium of cinema. The first one was Eat Pray Love which I reviewed here back on August 10, 2010. In that one, Julia Roberts divorced, left home and work, and made her way to Rome, Italy, then to an ashram in India, and last – she went to Bali; in all of those places she was seeking the answers to her personal questions. It may have been a spiritual awakening for her, or might have been that she loved the food. Maybe it was about meeting the right guy. Or maybe, it was about all of the above.
Today I took in the 2007 film called The Darjeeling Limited. Directed by Wes Anderson it is the story of three brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman, who are struggling with life, have suffered the death of their father, and their mother, well she had a calling of a sort. She departed their Queens, New York home, and ran off to a convent in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in far off India. They, the brothers, have not communicated among themselves in the year that has passed since the funeral. The idea of the trip was to reunite as brothers while simultaneously rediscovering themselves as individuals.
Francis (played by Owen Wilson) organizes a travel by train trip for the three of them through Northern India on the way to a reunion with their mother. Actually his assistant created the itinerary, booked all the tickets, arranged the hotels, and so forth. He’s in the film but doesn’t make any lasting impact.
All of the above is what the film is about, but not the actual beginning of the film. Right at the opening, we are in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. We are in a taxi and the passenger is a businessman. He’s played by Bill Murray. The taxi careens through town barely braking for motorized rickshaws, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, or even pedestrians.
The one time the cab stops is for a cow meandering in the street. They rush to the train station. Murray leaps from the cab – cuts ahead of folks to get to a ticket window and says his one line (it’s not dialogue as no one answers) as he looks at the track:
‘There’s my train…’
Which of course is slowly pulling out of the station. Murray dashes after it. He runs as fast as he can, but he’s not going to make it. Suddenly another man carrying suitcases races past him and just barely is able to pull himself onto the moving train. It is Adrien Brody who plays the middle brother Peter.
That’s your opening.
Anderson starts with an interesting premise – that the brothers will find themselves and each other. That faith and hope will return to them – and the worst of their dreadful habits will somehow be cured.
He takes his time in getting there. The brothers are all over the place. Francis (Wilson) is overbearing, bossy, and extremely selfish. He orders food as he sees fit for all of them, decides who will sleep where, and gives commands left and right.
“Are those Dad’s sunglasses? How come you have them when they belong to all of us?” is one of his statements that tells all.
Brody as Peter has a wife back home who is in the late stages of a pregnancy. Why is he trotting around in India? His wife is due in about six weeks. No matter – he is on a train to – we never do get a straight answer to that because they don’t end up anywhere special. In fact the train itself gets lost (go figure). At the end of the film, they’re changed, we think, but they’re back on a train.
Schwartzman plays the youngest brother Jack – he’s a failed writer, he’s suffering a broken romance that he’s clearly not over, he takes drugs, and is addicted to sex. He writes short stories on the train, which Francis and Peter see as reality about themselves but Jack insists on saying the characters are fictional (go figure once again).
A lot happens, and yet not much happens. The action includes Jack and the stewardess, running afoul of the train’s chief steward, being kicked off the train – it seems so episodic. Then again, I’ve never traveled on a train in India, so what do I know?
The train covers a great distance, but the longest parts of the journeys are the internal distances that each of the brothers travels within himself. Much of the film used symbolism – only Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola don’t go to great lengths to spell it out. You have to work out the meanings of the feathers, the belt, the sunglasses, the razor, and the expensive luggage that each of them tote around – sometimes by themselves but often there are porters or bearers to help.
Even the train itself is a metaphor because there is no real train in India called The Darjeeling Limited.
I can’t say that I was crazy about the film. Even the poster is nothing special (so I made my own – it’s not special either). The film is well made but is far more complex than you think it is. Or than it should be. It requires a lot of post viewing thinking and consideration even to figure out just what it was about. But even if you do concentrate on it – it’s not clear that the message is worthwhile, or for that matter, is the message even clear. Anderson is not a director that I’m familiar with, so I can’t say that this was another of his ‘there’s a message in there but you’ll have to dig it out on your own…’films. Maybe it was. I just don’t know.
Below the Trailer is the Rating and I’ll tell about the third in this review series.
So this was the second of three spiritual journey films that I’ve written about. I’m going to rate it as just three point zero out of five. I’m sure many of you who have seen it will disagree – some coming in with way higher scores and others with a lower score.
The third film in this review trilogy of spiritual journeys (or not) has not been released yet, but the theaters are showing the trailer which is also available on the net. Simply – it is about a group of British retirees who figure they can do better fiscally by retiring to India rather than spending their golden years by staying home in the UK. What they find is that their experiences will transform them, and they’ll learn a lot about themselves and life. That film is called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It stars Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, and Bill Nighy. It opens on May 4th, 2012.