Dargeeling Limited strikes me as a film that goes deeper than what is shown. Although it is obvious that it is a story about three brothers and the journey they take, I appreciate how I can see the parallels of their relationship to other relationships and incidents in the film.
The film is fragmented, and not linear, with things showing up again along the way revealing the connection of the scenes, but if we were to look at in chronological order, we see that everything starts when the three brothers miss their father’s funeral, creating distance among the three and distance between their mother. But everything wraps up in the end at another funeral. Here we begin to see the parallelism because this funeral, unlike their father’s, belonged to a child that they did not save in the river, and the brother who did not save him was the brother that was about to become a father. If we were to look at character development, it is also in this parallelism that we see the brothers no longer being materialistic, but rather very humble and solemn. Here we see the distance close, and the brothers gain acceptance which leads them to finally look for their mother, who in the end, as they expect, abandons them. But it is this pattern of abandonment and repetition in the the film that gives it closure.
We see the parallel relationship of the father to the brothers, the brothers to each other, the brothers to their mother, their mother to the culture, the culture to the kids, and the kids to the brothers, one in particular. All of these relationships are at first distant, but this distance is resolved and is symbolized in another repetition where at the end of the film the three brothers throw their luggage, a seemingly metaphorical way of letting go of their figurative “baggage” their issues, and now have a better relationship with each other and a better understanding of the Indian culture. The story of the film can all really be summed up in what Owen Wilson’s character, Francis, states: “they haven’t located us yet” and how he sees that as being symbolic of life, like a story, thus the reason why he brings around the itinerary, which almost acts as the plot outline. We also see in Owen Wilson’s character, characteristics of their mother, and it is these plot revelations that help us understand the characters more, even Francis’s “major accident” that we find out was actually on purpose.
Understanding the content of the film, I’d like to focus more on the form, and how the story is presented and how different cinematographic techniques used in the film parallel with the emotions that the film evokes and objects. Mi- san- sen (don’t know if the spelling’s correct) pretty much translates to what is seen. What enters the scene, enters the mind through our eyes; framing the way a scene wants to be watched by an audience. For example, the slow motion and background music in the beginning when Adrian Brody’s character is running for the train, or the point of view of the camera when the three brothers see the three young boys in the river drowning, it makes one strange, while the other more emotional. The distance between the three brothers to the kids is the same distance the camera positions itself, but when their focus is suddenly brought to the foreground, we see the quick zoom of the camera, and this parallels the quick pull of the characters’ and the audience’s attention. A camera technique drags us in closing the distance between the brothers and the young boys, and the distance of the audience to the film. So through these elements of screen arts, not only do they tell you what to see, but how it should be seen. And by seeing, not just a sense of sight, but understanding; both physical and comprehensive.
Another example would be the funeral scene of the young boy and how the way it’s shown makes it so significant. It makes you question why certain techniques are used for certain situations and how it’s supposed to make us think or feel. But what is important in watching film is to know that what is placed and what is not placed in scenes is very important, such as Bill Murray’s role. It makes you think, why was he there? What was his significance? And this leads me to my last point. The importance of what is seen.
Before Dargeeling Limited, we were shown a short film entitled, Hotel Chevalier, that included Natalie Portman in the cast. We see how in the Dargeeling Limited, many elements from Hotel Chevalier re- appear, such as the perfume, the Ipod and music, the “fictional” short stories, Jack’s call to his ex’s number, Natalie Portman’s re- appearance in the montage towards the end, and even if we didn’t see the short film, we would have been able to figure this all out, so why was it necessary? Why was it meant to be viewed before the feature film? As a writing major, I know that even if there is more than one main character, it is always and only one person’s story. And I believe in this film, it was Jack’s.
His character seems to have the most substance or internal and external conflict and therefore it is important to get a glimpse of his background or his backstory, because unlike the other two fully developed characters, Jack is the one we know least about, if we were only to watch the feature film. I think this altogether parallels the intention of the film. There is more than meets the eye: film is both honest and lying. It is honest because it is visual, but it is lying because it is artificial and put together. Sequence would not have mattered, but if the short film were to be viewed after, it would have seemed very much like a sideway sequel. And when we see Natalie Portman’s bruises, we again seek for another backstory. But I think that just like literature, film is a medium that is so fragile, because it takes a reaction, it takes a participation, it takes an understanding from the audience to be complete. What is seen is what we’re given, it’s what we’re given that we work with, and it’s when we work at understanding what we’re given that we see beyond what is seen.