Defining Otherness in Darjeeling Limited and Lost in Translation

Since I had been meaning for months to actually start posting on this film blog I thought I would make my first post a quick and concise thought I had with regards to two films, Darjeeling Limited and Lost in Translation that deal with white Americans finding themselves by two indie American film darlings, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola.

In both films, non-western inhabitants are used as an "amusing" backdrop for the western white Americans in their quest for a sort of purpose or goal in their life. Something of which should not be new since this invokes the idea of going to the Orient to find oneself.

I think for me at this point it's very self-evident how minimal the actual people of both countries are made out to be and in remembering both films it's not hard to see since the most involved character in DL was an Indian girl made the object of one of the brother's affections that invoked neocolonialist exotification more than anything. Or how cute and hilarious the Japanese people with their mistaking of "r"s and "l"s are apparently supposed to be to a Western audience. In all, both films manage to be very insulting and you do not have to go to mainstream films such as Eat Pray Love or The Last Samurai to see exotification and minimization of non-western cultures and countries.

Wes Anderson has repeatedly name-dropped Satyajit Ray as a primary influence, something of which has been used by fans to shirk away from any critiques of racism such as repeatedly with Pagoda in several of his films. There are many issues with this: Ray as an Indian director dealt with humanization and realism of his subject, which is exactly what Anderson fails in his illustration of people from India as well as minorities in general in his films. As well, in a more indirect way, this reinforces the tokenization of Ray as the sole Indian auteur, something of which minimizes and erases a diverse and expansive film industry that in fact has many acclaimed auteurs.

I think it's amazing though in the case of Lost in Translation where you have a film that makes quirks and jokes at the expense of Japanese people when the biggest non-Western film giants are all Japanese (aside from Ray), in which all these auteurs illustrated complexities, subtleties, and humanism of Japanese culture, customs, and its people.

In effect, both films serve to ironically understand the complexities of humanity and life but end up failing to me because of their dehumanization and minimization of the countries themselves where they go to "find themselves".


margo said...

Yes, to all of this. Also, what you've pointed out is part of this weird phenomenon where racism against/othering Asians doesn't seem to "count" as much as it would against other minority groups.

dana said...

eeee first post :D and i'll say yes to all of this too. do you know of a film of this type that doesn't end up dehumanizing and minimizing the countries traveled to?

Apexa said...

Dana - I think Claire Denis in her films does a good job because she's grew up in various French colonies in Africa and in a film like 'White Material' show focuses the disappearance of the Western and white privilege in the outbreak of civil war. I think it does a great job at pointing out the ignorance and obliviousness of Isabelle Huppert's character very well.

lanibarcelona said...

Nailed it.

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