Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"guardian, protectress" (?)

Do you remember Lilith? You know, the sexy snake lady.
I will remind you. . .

Earlier this summer, my daughter became enamored of another snake-lady. She is a sucker for "hero's journeys" and I've been reexamining my childhood. Anyway, we both we're very taken with Ray Harryhausen's 1981 Clash of the Titans.

Here is the snake-lady as she appeared in the film with her creator:

Here she is as rendered by my daughter:

And here she is in the film when she looses her head!

In Greek mythology, Medusa (Greek: Μέδουσα (Médousa), "guardian, protectress"[1]) was a monstrous chthonic female character; gazing upon her would turn onlookers to stone. She was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head as a weapon[2] until giving it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity and today, the image of the head of Medusa finds expression in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.[3] She also has two gorgon sisters. . . Wikipedia

Medusa, originally a beautiful young woman whose crowning glory was her magnificent long hair, was desired and courted by many suitors. Yet before she could be betrothed to a husband, Poseidon (Neptune) found her worshipping in the temple of Athena (Minerva) and ravished her. Athena was outraged at her sacred temple being violated, and punished Medusa by turning her beautiful tresses into snakes and giving her the destructive power to turn anyone who looked directly at her into stone.

Some scholars believe that the Greek and Roman Medusa myth, as told by Ovid, expresses the vanquishing of the great goddess religions as the male gods Zeus/Jupiter and Poseidon/Neptune gained power. Others view it as expressive of the subjugation of women's bodies and enslavement of their spirit by a violent and oppressive male-oriented culture, which viewed Medusa's life-giving, creative, primal energy as threatening.

Psychoanalytic interpretations of the Medusa myth focus upon Medusa's snake-like hair representing bleeding female genitals, and the frightening power of the wounded (perhaps "castrated"), devouring mother over the fragile male psyche. Seeking his own manhood, the son must conquer his early identification with his mother and his regressive tendency to submit to maternal power and be swallowed up again by the womb. In order to avoid being symbolically castrated himself, and to be capable of mature sexual relations with a woman, he must first "behead" the mother archetype. Only then is he free to express his own power as a man, to form an equal partnership with a woman, and to eventually be helper to his own mother. . . Medusa in Greek Mythology

So we are back to Freud huh? Do you read the above symbolic interpretation of Medusa as psychobabble or something intriuging? I like the idea that the snake woman you must conquer is your mother. We all have to get beyond our parents to have a life of our own. We have to challenge their beliefs to see if they really are our beliefs. And I suppose we do have to kill our central female figure in order to take another central female. How come the girls I always end up with are so snakey? I guess I have a type huh?

I'm using the font Futura. Does that tickle you at all? The following video should explain that.

Lately (the past couple years) I've been thinking that all stories are family stories--that the family is everything; that it is the important macrocosm; that family is the thing that makes us us, good and bad, through nature and nurture, that we all must face and deal with and that Freud's insights are the tools needed to understand the symbols in the great fictions.

Wes Anderson is one of the great practitioners of "family fiction". In a year of great darkness (There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Atonement) Anderson created a tiny bit of light that I don't think many people understood. I want to talk about its symbols a little bit because it contains a pretty good metaphor of life and has a couple scary snake ladies in it as well!

At the beginning of the film we find two men running for the train, one young and one old. They are running for The Darjeeling Limited. (I'm skipping the short that preceded the film. It is important and instructive but not part of the film proper.) Do you notice what the younger man, Adrien Brody, is carrying? He carries his father's bags. He and his brothers carry their father's baggage literally and emotionally throughout the whole film until the very end.  They wear the same clothes the entire film. What are in the those bags?  The bags are beautiful, and have their father's initials on them, but they obviously don't need them.

The beginning of this film is so beautiful. Bill Murray, one of Wes Anderson's symbolic fathers can't run fast enough to catch the train. Adrien was able to catch it, but Bill couldn't run fast enough. And the metaphor? The train is life. Riding the train is to be alive, but it is also to be part of something, such as a family.  The businessman (Bill Murray), although not Adrien Brody's character's literal father, is his symbolic father. 

This is one of the issues the boys deal with in this film. Though they set our on a spiritual quest to "find" their mother, they all are still really dealing with the death of their father. That is one of the events that put the family into disarray. Their motivation for the trip though has to do with their perceived abandonment by their mother, Angelica Huston, who is Wes Anderson's sybolic mother. She is "the mother" in all his movies.

This movie is about these boys growing up.  More importantly, this movie is about these boy transcending their parents, or their "threshold guardians".  The mother in this film is the "man eating tiger".  It is implied that she ate their father.  Of course, notice the name of the train the boys ride at the end of the film.  Notice its color as well!

One of my fascinations lately has been how birth order contributes to personality.  More specifically, I've been noticing that some children behave more like the mother and others in the same family more like the father.  The pattern I've been seeing is that the eldest often behaves like the father, and that the middle child can be more like the mother.  In The Darjeeling Limited this is switched.  We don't necessarily know this until the end.  Francis is the eldest and the most dominant, but we don' know that he is behaving like his mother until the end of the film.  

The clue of course is Adrien Brody's character who is the middle child.  He is affecting his father throughout the film to his brothers displeasure.  He wears his father's prescription glasses to the point of headache.  He carries his father's keys, and he shaves with his father's razor.  He desperately wants to understand "father" as he is about to become one.  But what is he doing in India with a pregnant wife who is due in six weeks?

Let's consider Jack.  He is the third child.  And the third child is interesting in terms of birth order in families of three because oftentimes they aren't easily recognized as one parent. They are the baby, but received the least amount of parental attention growing up anecdotally.  You know, the first child has books of photos, and the last might have one.  I suppose the exception to this is if the third child is a girl after two boys.  (And what about the family of four?  Naturally, one should look to The Godfather.  The fourth is "the savior". Zeus was the baby of his family too.)

So Jack, played by Jason Schwartzman, is the baby in the film.  He tries to understand his place through thinly fictionalized accounts of his life in story.  The women he chooses are awful to him and often come and go at their pleasure.  Why would he allow this?  Why would he seek out girls like this?  This is a feedback loop.  For him to overcome (and forgive) his mother he seeks relationships similar to his relationship with his mother.

All the boys need to overcome their mother.  Why did she abandon them?  How could they not take it personally?  Why didn't she come to their father's funeral?

How do the boys deal with this abandonment?  Remember "the middle way"?  That is administering one's drug of choice to cut the edge off reality.  They use booze, smokes, and Indian cold medicine and pain killers that one doesn't need a prescription to buy.  It seems almost ridiculous in the film, but reflects reality actually.  Who wants to face the truth of existence?  What does it mean?  Where can one hide from this apparent meaninglessness?

The last name of this family is Whitman.  This is an interesting point too.  That means "white man".  What are these "white men" doing in a foreign land?  Is this totally cliché for the "white man" to seek "the truth" in a foreign country?  The importance?  I think Wes Anderson was trying to bring East and West together?  Perhaps, the mother, was also symbolized by the unknowable east, by India.  She is the foreign country the boys were trying to understand and navigate to find themselves.

Do you remember Pingala and Ida?  Adam and Eve?  I was calling them the "threshold guardians".  They were the snakes on the caduceus.  Well aren't trains kinda snakey?  This was my favorite little metaphor in the movie.  These boys sought and needed reconciliation with their mother.  They were riding a blue train.  Think lunar, feminine.  The train was their mother, Eve, Ida.  They needed to grow up though, and become men.

Notice the music Jack plays when they get booted off the blue train?  It is Debussy's "Clair de Lune".  The music at the garage is also western, classical music.  Think white!  Their world is western and white and they understand it in those terms.  The Indian music throughout the film is one other element that makes this journey foreign.

The train conductor is another interesting character.  He is "the father" on the blue train. When the boys get in trouble for the snake, (interesting!) he grounds them.  Wes Anderson constantly stages moments in his movies where characters take on the feel of children being scolded by a symbolic parent.

At the end of the film the boys bury a peacock feather together.  There was a lot of funerals in this film.  One of the things they needed was a proper funeral for their father. Although we are not sure, it is implied that they missed their father's funeral while they were at the garage.  Of course when they covered the Porsche there, that was a funeral of sorts too.

The Peacock feather is really intriguing though.  The peacock is a symbolic bird for "the goddess", and it is also the national bird of India.  But!  The gender of what we think of when we think of "peacock" is male.  So,  at the end, when they bury the peacock feather, are they burying their father, the mother, or both?  Probably both.  It is in this ceremony that they lay their father to rest, and forgive (kill?) their mother.  They fear the man-eating tiger no more.  She is gone.  They have transcended the temple guardians.

We know this for sure because the red (masculine) train they ride is called "The Begnal Lancer".  Talk about invoking Frued, eh?  This is Pingala.  They even had to drop their father's bags to catch this train.  To live, they had to get past their parents.  And the song as they run to the train?  "Powerman".  It is a great moment in the film.  They are fully alive.  I'd show it if I could, but I can't find any pirated youtube.  Sorry.  Guess you will have to just go and and watch the movie yourself.

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