Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited: Fresh and Hip or More of the Same?

I don't usually do movie reviews because lots of other people online are already doing that, but after I went to see The Darjeeling Limited I ended up having to explain my reading of it repeatedly and finally decided to just blog about it.

I'll begin by saying that the movie is very funny and hip. Part of that being the absurd cultural expectations (increasing in spirituality by treating it as a commodity?) of these bumbling dysfunctional brothers. And although that makes it seem that their ignorance is not endorsed but rather criticized due to its inadequacy - overwhelmingly we are made to relate to these brothers, sympathize with them and really like them by the end of the film.

In The Darjeeling's structure itself, it's no different than all the other mainstream U.S. films about white men in the "Third World" that historically have promoted a discourse of degrading neocolonialism. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch Gringo in MaƱanaland (1995).

We begin The Darjeeling with white people who are traveling abroad with the expressed purpose of exploiting the resources of the foreign land (spirituality as a commodity). They are not interested in seeing what they can learn from the native culture in much the way that Christopher Columbus's attitude can be seen in his travel writings.

India becomes a colorful, quaint, exotic backdrop for the visual pleasure of the white, male gaze (read Laura Mulvey). The Indian characters, in a similar fashion, are all static props. Even Peter's romantic diversion is an Indian woman who's only name in the film is "sweet lime". She's named after the one of the commodities she serves. She is trapped on the train, while the white brothers are able to "get off" (in Peter's case, both literally and figuratively.)

Well what of the feel-good part where the white brothers save two out of three Indian brothers? Great. Another movie where the white guys get to make out like heroes, good guys and saviors (similarly to their mislead mother) while the native are so stupid that they go getting themselves killed - even in their own element. Retarded.

The whole structure smacks of Ronald Reagan saving Rhonda Fleming's banana plantation in Central America and roughing up some bad guys as expatriate freedom-fighter Dan McCloud in Tropic Zone (1953). Movies don't matter, you say? Could it be that there is some link between Dan McCloud's attitude towards Central American natives and Reagan's bloody foreign policy effects in Central America in the eighties?

The Indian son's funeral scene is a saving grace in that it is an interesting parallel - not superior or inferior to the white father's funeral - and it seems to be a respectful and culturally-sensitive representation. BUT, this is still, after all, a movie about wealthy white males.

I'm certain Wes Anderson didn't intend to increase inequality in the world by directing The Darjeeling Limited, but that's not reason enough to let him off the hook. Anyone making films of such scale needs to take on the responsibility to be culturally sensitive, learn about the hegemonic structures of their genre, and be mindful about whether they are reproducing or subverting oppressive structures. If Anderson would move away from using "token exotics" and towards making "Third World" characters dynamic protagonists, he'd be making a truly revolutionary cinematic move.

The Darjeeling Limited is currently playing at The Loft.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Excellent review, i think your point is well made. As you know I myself would be interested in the funeral comparisons, because it is so subtle a comparison that it seems to beg more for more meaning. But i'm a comparatively rich white man myself.

A big what if, but what if Anderson's , coppala's, and schwartzman's intention was to evoke neo-colonialism, and the movie becomes more of a satire, as many of his other movies seem to intend?