“Yes, I Will Have a Drink and Half of that Pecan Pie, Please.”
**To make sense of this article, first read Emotional Distance, Owen Wilson, and The Darjeeling Limited.
The movie, The Darjeeling Limited, is the story of one man’s attempt to save his own life and maybe those of his brothers who are equally crippled by their strange and emotionally distant childhood. The story reveals what could happen to you if a person who can’t mind their own business convinced you that the only way to resolve your self-defeating habits was to lock yourself up with your family and listen to each other until each of you had a grip. That is until you could see your family and the world with less automatic anxiety and rigidity and with more objectivity and possibility.
The movie opens with the three Whitman brothers assigned to a small cabin to spend a week traversing India. For the eldest, played by Owen Wilson, fresh from barely surviving a violent suicide attempt, the trip is a last-ditch attempt to resolve old issues and feel some connection to the world. Unbeknownst to the younger two, the trip is also a veiled effort to connect with their mother, the most distant mother in the world, but that’s the next story. (The Least Involved Mother in the World vs. The Most Involved Father in the World.)
The notion that a Bowen Theory therapist is behind this train-ride-family-lock-in is mine, but it’s just the sort of torture trip we might encourage. While this entry is on food and drink, other posts showcase family lessons represented in the movie. The Darjeeling Limited is funny, too. Just like our families can be when anxiety is down. Humor brings us all back to earth and to life.
Family Closeness and the Popularity of Food, Drinks, Pills, and Smokes
That many of us in our culture grow up uncomfortable with our families is no surprise. Our culture emphasizes individualism over community. We grow up learning that how we stand out and over others is more important than connecting and supporting. Psychologists’ theories ‘branding’ parents and considering the person as separate from the system have pinned ribbons on this disconnected way of living.
As the train leaves the station, the brothers convene in the dining car. Silent and fidgety. What now? These men are horribly uncomfortable. What do we do when someone is uncomfortable? Why we offer them a substance, of course. (Being sort of a ‘Sheldon’, I think of how he automatically offers a hot beverage to anyone who appears upset. His expression gives away that he considers the emoting person to be have some sort of illness.) This is exactly what happens with the Whitman boys.
Consciousness-altering, anxiety-reducing, memory-blotting substances pop out of every pocket and from under every jacket. Each player dumps on the table his bright yellow bag from the pharmacy next to the train station. Narco Cough with its own spoon, Opio Sedate with an eyedropper (For night-time use only, but what the heck?) and a variety of powerful pain pills that the guys were thrilled to discover could be bought over the counter. Throughout the movie, when a touchy subject comes up—say a difference in the way brothers remember each other’s behavior and the behavior of their parents—out come the smokes, the drinks, the pills. The point is to grab and ingest as many dangerous unknown substances as possible without any thought to combinations or death potential as such considerations would only stretch out the time before mental and emotional incapacitation.
Now the interesting part. The usual way of thinking about drinks, drugs, and donuts is that we reach for them as a way to ‘get high.’ Wrong. At the most basic level our goal is to tone down our emotions. We want to ‘feel’ less. We want to ‘change the way we feel’ even if the change is from tense to nauseous. At least we have something but the truth to focus on. At least we have put something between our tender inner core and the anxiety storms. We have left the building.
At the movie’s low point (yes, again the work of the World’s Most Distant Mother) the brothers have been kicked off the train in the middle of the nowhere-forever desert with no idea of where to go or what to do. No idea of how to find a meal or a bed or even a town. On realizing the seriousness of their dilemma, Francis, their noble leader, stares out at the endless empty sand and says brightly, “Let’s get high!”
Food, drinks, smokes, and pills do change the way we feel—but not for long. And usually, the long-term result is not the result we are hoping for. Just around the corner we’re all looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, both important family times in a culture that doesn’t do much to encourage time with the extended family. My goal is not to preach, but I have a couple of suggestions that may mean you are less likely to reach for that third piece of pecan pie.
- No politics. If someone else kicks the ball onto your lawn, it could be lovely to mention that time with family is too important.
- Pick the person who you have the most trouble seeing objectively– (the one who drives you nuts and, get this—won’t change for you.) Make it a goal to learn one thing he or she does better than you do.
The Darjeeling Limited ends with a startling revelation. Faced with this new truth, Francis looks at his brothers, gathers them to his sides, cuffs their shoulders and advises: “Let’s go get a drink and a cigarette.”