Juxtaposition Theater #1: The Darjeeling Limited versus Visitor Q

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Thursday, 10 September 2009

(20:46:15 CDT)

Juxtaposition Theater #1: The Darjeeling Limited versus Visitor Q

For reasons not really clear, I decided the best way to spend my time post-class last night was to watch Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited and Takashi Miike's Visitor Q back to back. At the time, it did not really occur to me to call it "Juxtaposition Theater". That came later. I'll mention why in a moment. I personally thought the two would clash, which they did, but there was more to it than that. I found that two movies, from two wide genres and different directors, can have strange similarities when paired together arbitrarily.

The Darjeeling Limited is a film about three brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who go on a trip across India aboard the Darjeeling Limited (a train) and eventually get kicked off and going around the back way, so to speak. They end looking for their mom, dealing with their dad's death, trying to save some local kids, getting a shoe stolen, taking weird medicine, and all sorts of quirky things as befitting American indie cinema.

Visitor Q is one of Miike's "digital video" movies (the last part of a set of six such movies by various directors called, collective, Love Cinema, though Miike himself has done other movies in a like medium, including the more recent Detective Story). At its core is a family. To set it up, the opening scene is the father paying his prostitute daughter for services. Then a stranger hits him in the head with a rock. Literally. He takes the stranger home, where his son is severely beating his wife, and it kind of goes downhill from there. Dude gets raped with a microphone, rapes his ex-lover and kills her, experiences necrophilia, let's his son get beat up by bullies "for the story", and more fun, fun things. Oh, and if you have an issue with watching women lactate, avoid. At all costs, even. I do not kid.

Completely different movies, right? Yes, but with some neat similarities and comparisons, too. The first one that comes immediately to mind is the dysfunctional family angle. Three brothers and a missing mom in one case, versus a nuclear family where the daughter is missing in the other (both have the same number of characters, though, if you do not count the Visitor and focus on the family itself). Dysfunction and interpersonal strife rule in both cases. In both movies, a character wears scars as both a literal visual element and as a symbol of their personal problems. Both movies involve mild drug abuse as an angle (though Visitor Q is darker with it, it ultimately becomes a friendly and even positive device later). In both, someone is hit with a belt.

It is the other similarities that are weirder. In both movies, one of the characters is documenting the events of their lives, seeing themselves as both an insider and outsider of the story. This is accepted by other characters, but occasionally remarked upon. In both movies, the external living arrangements is telling of the internal issues. In The Darjeeling Limited, the brothers are on a train that has elephants as a strong motif and they struggle with the inability to forget. In Visitor Q, the house has many busted walls and rips in the paper. In several scenes, they spy on each other, as strangers, through a hole in the wall. In both movies, an external element is lost at the end to show personal growth. Both start missing the opening chapters (why the daughter ran away, why the father is broken and looking for a new story) and fill in some of the blanks but not all. Both end with a family member missing, but the family is more of a whole. In both, external chaos helps the family to find internal bonding.

There are also color similarities. In both, blue represents a more insular home life while red (the color of the final train in Darjeeling, the color of the Visitor's shirt in Q) represents moving away from the past. The main difference is that final "blue" scene of Q is a moment of purification (though still a bit disturbing to some) while the blue scenes in Darjeeling are accompanied by fights and preparing for death. Both movies have a scene in which the color white is an understanding of what is wrong (in Darjeeling, the white worn during the funeral sequence is accompanied by the first glimpse into the past, in Q the floor covered in the mother's milk (yeah) is the scene where the son speaks the thesis of the movie, if you will).

I could go on, especially since both Anderson and Miike favor odd camera angles and sudden close ups, and both shoot movies with quirky dialogue and events (my favorite scene from both of those movies is when the father gets struck by the Visitor the second time, don't know why) that, though disjointed, somehow works in context; but I will end there. I do not think the movies reference each other. I do not think that they are even necessarily saying the same things with the same symbols. They just use very similar devices at times and I think that's neat.

I also want to point out something. My descriptions of Visitor Q have included some pretty scary words, right? I don't even think I mentioned the poo. I just want to point out that though the movie is as rough as I made it sound, and possibly worse, there is a lot to see in it. However, I think the movie might lose something in the porting it to America. Not that the themes aren't fairly universal (external scars, for one, and a jigsaw puzzle that Americans will understand jut fine), but I think there are certain symbols about the family and certain concepts about how the family are supposed to work that might be Japanese centric. Kind of. The reversal of the loving son (who inflicts massive scars on his mom), and the protective father (whose first scene is a failure to sexually please his own daughter and then, afterwards, he leaves her behind without paying her fully) are universal enough. The collusion of the mother's milk and sexual desire, which also represents the internal strength of the family, might feel more weird to a Western audience. Rather than the mom teaching her daughter a positive trade, she has apparently inspired her daughter's descent into prostitution (in one scene, near the beginning, the dad implies paying the mom for services rendered by the daughter, whatever that means). There is also the weird complexities of The Visitor, himself. While he largely just watches (and for a good part, films) the breakdown, he does get actively involved with the female members of the family. I think, overall, he is meant to be understood as an externalization of a family being seen, since the heavy motif of the film is that all the weird problems we have on the inside are actualized by this family. The man thinks with his penis is becomes enraged and afraid when he is afraid it is failing. The mom tries to keep a smiling, pretty face for her family. Us Americans are quick to wear our heart on our sleeve, to fly our freak flag high. I think the movie makes more of a statement to a society where fitting in is even more important than it is is here.

With all that being said, not sure I could recommend Visitor Q to many. It is strange, disturbing, and cheaply shot. The movie will have long scenes of almost nothing, followed by short scenes with a lot of stuff, and I think all of the bodily fluids show up somewhere or another. At least are talked about.

I'm definitely going to do Juxtaposition Theater again, though I have no idea what movies it will be next time.

Si Vales, Valeo


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