Darjeeling Limited and Family Relations In Adulthood

The other week I saw The Darjeeling Limited, a new Wes Anderson movie about three American brothers who go to India for a spiritual experience and bonding. It was good: funny, quirky, interesting cinematography. Seeing the three brothers try to re-establish both their own brotherly bonds and their relationship with their mom (who had fled to India to become a spiritual healer of sorts) made me think of a point that’s been rattling around in my head about family.

For most of my single, 20 or 30-something friends (their siblings and parents are usually alive and they don’t have spousal families), there’s a pretty strong correlation between their overall happiness level and their family relations. People who have bad or non-existent family relations seem to lead a more up-and-down life, whereas those who still get along with their parents and siblings in adulthood are in a better, happier position.

The obvious observation is that when you’re young and dependent, family matters because they exert so much control on your life. If you want to be miserable, have miserable relationships with your parents and brothers and sisters. The less obvious observation (ok – maybe it’s still obvious) is that even when you’re not financially dependent, even when you’re out of the house and building your own life, family relations still seem to impact your happiness in ways many people underestimate.

I know, we hear it over and over: Family matters. But here’s the rub: when we talk about the importance of family, we often talk about it in mushy wushy terms — the kind of later-in-life, formative, intense family bonding experience that Po Bronson wonderfully describes. That’s a fine ideal. Yet all I’m talking about is simply getting along. Neutral. Not bad. The key is to not have actively negative feelings. The key is for everyone to tolerate each other at the Christmas get-together and for family stress not to consume undue psychic energy.

There are plenty of books for teens on how to deal with your family. There are plenty of books for the recently-married on how to start your own family. There seems to be a market for those in-between these two life stages on how to maintain what you’ve got.


On a related note, check out this touching reflection in the NYT “Lives” column from a guy who takes care of his father — and they, too, go to India, this time to trace the father’s roots together. Money graf:

We were both suffering from the need to say something in keeping with the scale of what we’d been through. Quite a problem, considering his default of emotional understatement and mine of lapsing into a crying jag at the first sign of human warmth. Standing there with his collar up and his left eye watering, he looked older than I’d ever seen him look. The bus arrived. We embraced, still reaching for something to say. In the end he just said, “Thanks for looking after me.”

6 comments on “Darjeeling Limited and Family Relations In Adulthood
  • It is very important to have good relations with family members.

    But what if your family members have problems? What do you do as a in-betweener to get them help? Should you just let them make errors? Does your relationship with your parents change once you reach adulthood? Should it? Is it your parents’ home or is it your home? If it’s not your home and you are in college, are you homeless?

    These are the questions running through my mind. I sure could use a self-help book. 😉

  • ok, ok, i know what the correct thing to say is… but…. i call it the tyranny of families, and it can be stifling, and when mixed with tradition, and ego-identity, as is the case here in india, my god, it is truely scary…

    but i know what you mean…

  • I don’t quite understand. When you are financially independent, a family is never thrust upon. Go, break free. Where’s the question of tyranny? Like almost everything else in life including freedom (you can go wayward, take to dope), family is a coin that has two sides. If you want its upsides (bonding, security, love), then be game to take in some slack (dependents, obligations, compromises) too. The trouble is our own disposition that allows us to absorb its tailwind while cringing at the drag. That’s no way to live life.

  • A big element of Anderson’s films is the emotional search for the family that never was. (Specifically, father figures.)

    Your reactions are common–another aspect of his films is that the driving emotional trauma is ambiguous. There is always backstory, but it’s never covered. This leads you to believe the source of the trauma isn’t Dad’s death/inconsistency/other woman, Mom’s disappearance/depression or conflicting personalities/sibling rivalry/etc…instead it is personal conflict within the character that they blame on said trauma. In the end, he or she figures it out, although nothing actually changes on the family front. It’s attitude. Like you said, to get along is choice. Families are never perfect, but that cannot be an excuse.

    Makes me wonder what personally influenced Anderson to write and produce not just Darjeeling but four of these movies in a row. (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic)

    Obviously, all favorites.

  • PS Charlie– go watch one of these movies. These families have more problems than you can count. The relationships are surprisingly realistic for comedies.

  • The fact that people who get along with their parents in life are also happier may be true, but i think you have the causal link backwards. Rather, those who get along with their parents were taught good relationship skills, thus they are happier, thus they get along with their parents/family.

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