Note: Done for Jonah Ross’ Road Movie course at Portland State University, this exercise focuses on a single frame from the film The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
This frame occurs at the funeral of the young Indian boy Peter (Adrien Brody) fails to save from drowning (1:00:49).
A number of aspects of film form are used to suggest a connection between the present condition of the film’s three heroes: Peter, Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), and their own father’s funeral, including: composition of the frame, acting, spacialization, and the frame’s specific to a previous frame.
In the chosen frame, Francis, the oldest, is positioned on the far left hand side of the frame, staring straight ahead at camera, nose and head wrapped in bandages to illustrate/underline the self-inflicted damage that has been done to his body in the wake of his father’s funeral. His right arm is wrapped around the shoulder of Jack, the youngest, who stares straight ahead at camera as well, band-aid just barely visible under the bangs of his hair. On the far right side of the frame is Peter, separate from the other two yet positioned on more or less the same visual plain. While Francis and Jack squint, Peter looks sad but open-eyed at camera, no doubt wracked with guilt over being unable to save the young Indian boy from drowning. All three brothers are in the immediate foreground while in the background the villagers have gathered for the same funeral behind them.
In this frame, the acting and specialization are deliberately designed, via an abrupt match cut before hand, to relate back to the nearly-identically composed frame (1:00:48) at the end of the previous flashback scene in the car in which the three protagonists leave the garage and head for their father’s funeral. In that frame, similarly, Francis sits – unbandaged this time – on the far left hand side of the frame, staring straight at camera, with his arm around Jack, whose head is slightly tilted to the left and who has his arms crossed as he stares straight at camera. This time, Peter is again on the far right hand side of the frame. Like Jack, his arms are also crossed as he stares straight ahead, however, he is also separate in the small, tightly packed back seat of the car, positioned almost as far from his two brothers as can be.
The visual spatialization of themes pops up again in a few key ways here: In the frame inside the car at the end of the flashback, all three brothers look straight forward with sad, wide open eyes, suggesting that they are looking into the immediate future unblinkingly and living in the moment of grief. In the chosen frame (i.e. it’s near-identical twin), both Francis and Jack squint while only Peter looks forward with deeply sad eyes. The suggestion is unmistakably that both Francis and Jack have moved to the higher, almost existential plain of existence that Francis’ planned trip to India was supposed to bring about, while Peter is still stuck facing head-on the pain and guilt of what has happened – which, for that matter, is also underlined by his need to scavenge from his father’s belongings as a way of living in the past and perhaps feeling closer to him.
The near-identical blocking/placement of all three actors in both frames suggests that in two very different places and times, yet faced with similar circumstances, they were all together and that no matter what has changed in between, their basic relationship/dynamic has not.
Finally, in the chosen frame, Francis, Jack and Peter are in the foreground as the Indian villagers have gathered in the background. Compare this with the previous frame in which they were alone in a car with nothing of note visible in the rear window. The suggestion is that if previously they were alone together in their grief, in the case of the Indian funeral they have perhaps become part of something larger than themselves, and thus moved to that higher plain that Francis hoped they would attain on their voyage.