Thursday, November 08, 2007

Next stop: Spiritualism?

Note: This post is a contribution to the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon at Strange Culture

In The Darjeeling Limited, Owen Wilson's character Francis proclaims he and his brothers are on a "spiritual journey" through India, like it was a package arranged by an online travel agency. In Wes Anderson's previous films, religion was almost never touched on -- save for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou's imagery of an undersea world of obvious intelligent design. With his latest film, Anderson often looks at how religion is viewed from the outside, by those who are in it as tourists.

Wilson's performance and his odd character are the driving forces of The Darjeeling Limited, and it's telling that Francis never really expounds on what spiritualism means to him, even though he goes out of his way to trumpet how "spiritual" upcoming locations are and to involve his brothers in complex spiritual rites. To Francis, "spiritual" is merely an adjective. It represents the unknown of what he may find at a temple of a religion completely foreign to him or what a strange ceremony involving peacock feathers may produce.

Francis clearly wants something big to happen between he and his brothers on their journey, but it's unclear why he chose India other than the land's spiritual qualities that baffle him. Perhaps the most spiritual moment of the trip is when the brothers find themselves at a young boy's funeral, inside a small village. Anderson focuses on the the villagers' rituals of burning the body, an image that no doubt shocked the clean cut brothers. Since they had recently attended their father's funeral, the brothers now find themselves at a more emotional event for a person they didn't know, but the effects of the native rituals are probably more profound than anything at the American ceremony.

There is a seismic rift between Francis, Peter and Jack, and Francis may know that it will take a higher power to heal it. Though he praises the spiritual qualities of the land they're traveling through, Francis doesn't appear to be very spiritual himself. But Francis seems convinced that a spiritual ceremony with peacock feathers will help the brothers find common ground -- but it only further illustrates their disconnect since Peter and Jack were unclear on their roles. The ceremony shows Francis' misunderstanding of spiritualism and faith, and how they connect.
The peacock ceremony is empty without the necessary faith, and only when the three brothers have faith in themselves and their family, at the end, does the "ritual" work for them and serves as a uniting force.

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