Emotional Distance, Owen Wilson, and The Darjeeling Limited
Part 1. Brothers on a Train
What would you do if a psychologist suggested that to truly resolve current self-destructive habits, you must get straight—comfortable and ‘real’– with your family?
Demand your money back and accuse the therapist of conspiracy to commit unwanted maturity?
Insist the therapist does not understand that, while you have it together, everyone else in your family is a.) crazy, and b.) impossible.
Look for another therapist?
In The Darjeeling Limited what Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson), the eldest of the Whitman brothers, does to bring his family closer is trick his middle brother, Peter (Adrien Brody), and youngest brother Jack (Jason Schwartzm) into a forced togetherness crossing India sardined into a small compartment. (Not my choice either. I think I’d opt for a cruise even with the ever-present overboard possibility.)
The Darjeeling Limited (*warning–spoilers) is the story of one man’s desperate attempt to save his own life and maybe those of his brothers who are equally crippled by their strange and emotionally distant childhood. The business about the lead character following the suggestion of a Bowen Theory psychologist is my little fantasy and not explicitly in the plot. The movie could be a textbook on anxiety in the family, though. It’s clear that Francis has realized that if he is ever to address his deep-seated problems and make headway with serious symptoms, he’s going to have to:
- figure out how to ‘be known’ in his family. (Here ‘be known’ means to be able to share deep emotions concerning past without becoming overwhelmed;
- figure out a way to stay calm enough to allow his ‘co-conspirators in silence’ to ‘be known’ to him and each other.
- gain a more objective view of his brothers (and other family members, living and dead) and take ownership of his own part in the family’s history and future.
Pretty scary, right? But Francis Whitman is set to put everything he has into the project. Once the three brothers, who have not communicated since the death of their father a year ago, are imprisoned in the cabin, Francis addresses the clan:
“I want us to become brothers again like we used to be. I want us to make this trip a spiritual journey where each of us seeks the unknown and we learn about it. Can we agree to that? I want us to be completely open and say ‘yes’ to everything even if it’s shocking and painful—can we agree to that?”
The truth, of course, is that Francis, Jack, and Peter have never been close. No one in the Whitman family has ever been close to anyone else. In the Whitman home growing up the message was clear that emotions were not allowed. The boys and their parents pasted on blank semi-happy faces no matter what sort of dysfunction went on. Even when Mrs. Whitman walked out—and she didn’t just ‘leave,’ she covered her tracks so that she could not be found—even then, the boys pretended that what had happened was, if not normal, certainly not scary or painful. No worries. Crazy happenings weren’t real if you didn’t talk about them. So no one did.
When Francis ‘captures’ his brothers for the train ride the three of them haven’t spoken since their father’s death a year ago. But that’s not unusual. One of them is about to be a father and he hasn’t told the others. One of them had unintentionally survived a violent suicide attempt, and another has a book published without cuing his brothers.
Will the forced togetherness on the Darjeeling Limited create new experiences which open possibilities or will Francis’s last ditch effort seal the boys even further away from each other?
Part Two: Substance Abuse and Togetherness…Part Three: World’s Most Distant Mother…Part Four…Siblings and Baggage…Part Five: Sibling Position Inside a Train Car in India…Part Six: What Good Could Possibly Come from Family Togetherness?