Oh Mr. Anderson!: Cultural Appropriation of India in The Darjeeling Limited

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A beautiful Wes Anderson film, perfectly made, incredible to look at it, and sadly appropriative of India. Wes Anderson is my absolute favorite director so it really hurts me to write this article acknowledging his misstep. The Darjeeling Limited, the director’s 2007 effort follows three brothers; Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they go on a spiritual journey across India in order to reconnect after their Mother’s disappearance, and their Father’s death. The use of India as a back-drop for the reconnection of some spiritually displaced white men is an insult to the rich history, colors, and culture of India. The movie uses the setting to its advantage as the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at it, as with any Anderson film. However, all of that beauty is underlined by the fact that it’s only the background and is marginalized for the benefit of Anderson’s characters. In one of the first stops on a long train

In one of the first stops on a long train journey, the brothers make a trip to a Hindu temple in order to meditate and pray. For what? That’s unclear, however, they clearly seem to think praying at this temple, to a God not of their religion, they’ll somehow be friendly to one another again. Again, while it makes for beautiful imagery to look at, all meaning is lost as it’s not applicable to it’s three white main characters. None of these visuals have any clear cut meaning because it’s all being interpreted through a visitor’s eyes. It’s all being appropriated for the sake of a dramatic back drop for this family drama to unfold.

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In another key part of the film, Jason Schwartzman’s Jack and Adrien Brody’s Peter cause a bunch of problems on The Darjeeling Limited. Peter brings a known poisonous snake onto the train which accidently escapes and endangers the entire cabin and Jack has sex with Rita the train attendant. Both of these things turn lives upside down and carelessly endanger others. The brothers treat India throughout the film as something that can be played around in, where the rules don’t apply to them. Jack turns an entire girl’s life upside down because he’s heartbroken over another girl he knew in France while Peter endangers an entire train car of people and by extension the job of the train conductor. By interrupting the fragile ecosystem of the train the three brothers further prove themselves to be intrusions upon the culture and life of India.

Another point in the story that speaks volumes to the erasure of Indian culture is when all of the brothers meet up on the train for the first time, and all possess new medicines that are available over the counter here. The three brothers arrive in India and proceed to misuse the culture around them and treat it all as their own to romp around in. India is used as a playground for the three brothers and try and become brothers again, creating an image of a magical place that all white people can go and visit to solve their problems.

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The Darjeeling Limited sadly contains all the hallmarks of an Anderson film and is unmistakably his. The problem with this is that I can’t ignore it as part of his filmography through selective omission. Anderson has written a fabulous and well thought out story, all of the characters are well developed and it’s entertaining. What’s inexcusable is his blatant misuse of Indian culture and locales in order to further his character’s emotional development. It’s the fact that the story hinges so much on its background that it would be indistinguishable without it. This makes the film inherently an appropriative one, as it uses India as a background and a background only, there’s no real reason for it be there except to further the experience of Anderson’s characters.