Emily Johnson (She/Her)
Films have the ability to shift perspectives, educate and effectively communicate across language and cultural barriers. Through fluid visuals and audio in films, stories of change are able to emotionally connect with audiences and shape different views and ideas. These stories can have great meaning to individuals, especially when discussing themes of personal growth, transformation and change for the better. As an audience, we are able to form connections and feel empathy for characters in films as we are able to witness how they evolve in a narrative, through struggles and challenges they may face. Usually, films contain a main aim, goal or quest for the characters to reach, and the journey is where various forms of metamorphosis occur along the way.
Released in 2013, Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited follows three brothers on an odyssey across India. The three brothers, Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Francis (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Adrien Brody), embark on a voyage of self-discovery and aim to reconnect after spending a year apart after their father’s death. The reunion is organised by Francis who seems to have a new outlook on life after a near-fatal motorbike incident. Francis wants to get to know his younger brothers again and become enlightened by their trip.
Early on, it is apparent that the brothers are highly dysfunctional and flawed. They have a deep attachment to objects, such as an expensive leather belt, a pair of prescription sunglasses and a variety of cumbersome Louis Vuitton suitcases; all of which belonged to their late father. These objects become subjects of arguments and bickering between the three brothers and portray their need to hold on to their father’s memory and the past. They follow carefully put together itineraries each day and even hire a personal assistant to help them organise their journey. However, an unexpected encounter with a tragic accident alters the brother’s original path. In this moment, the brothers are faced with feelings of heartbreak and grief, causing them to reflect on their own lives. This tragedy helps the brothers to become more empathetic and caring of people around them. Ultimately, this accident is a catalyst for the brothers to look at life in a new light and pushes them to face their own problems.
Finally, the brothers seem to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and each other, due to the challenges they have endured together. As well as this, they eventually let go of the abundance of luggage they were carrying with them throughout the film to catch a new train. This symbolises letting go of the past and provides them with closure so that they can move forward.
For me, it is the most human of Wes Anderson’s films, as it deals with humour and heartbreak, as well as themes of grief and family. The Darjeeling Limited is witty, vibrant and accompanied by music from great bands, such as The Kinks.
Ben Stiller’s version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of a downtrodden middle-aged man who works as a negative assets manager at Life magazine. To escape his monotony, Walter Mitty (played by Stiller himself) finds himself escaping into action-packed, romantic daydreams.
Mitty’s job is threatened when an important photograph by photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) never arrives at his office. Life magazine is about to publish its final print issue, as a shift to a fully digitalised magazine is underway. The photograph is described as the ‘quintessence’ of life, thus it is vital for the final print cover. To save his job, Mitty takes the leap and follows the clues of Sean’s whereabouts to Greenland. Mitty’s journey is one of finding courage and facing new challenges, such as climbing mountains and jumping out of helicopters, but it’s also about connecting with family and building new relationships.
As the movie progresses, his adventure takes new turns and Mitty ends up travelling to Iceland, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. Mitty’s journey links closely with the motto of Life magazine, ‘To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of Life.’ His adventure across the world leads to personal growth as he embraces new experiences and new people. In addition, the shift from a mundane life to an adventurous one is made clear within the colour palette. There is a noticeable shift from the greys of the corporate offices, to the vibrant colours of the world. Still camera shots and wide frames create the feel of a bland corporate environment, however, there is a juxtaposition of colours on Mitty’ journey, where the audience are catapulted into breath-taking scenery and vibrant colours. As an audience, we witness Mitty’s life turning a new chapter, and the possibility of new adventures to come.
Ultimately, Ben Stiller’s version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, is a feel-good film, containing beautiful cinematography and an incredible soundtrack.
Moreover, physical metamorphosis of characters in films can also have an impact on their personal growth. Japanese animation film studio, Studio Ghibli, are known for creating enchanting stories about family, friendship and the environment. My childhood favourite, Ponyo, follows the journey of a curious goldfish who is enchanted by the human world.
The story revolves around the friendship between magical goldfish Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) and a human child, Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) that she encounters on an outing to see the human world. Sosuke discovers Ponyo stuck in a glass jar by the shore and continues to care for her after she heals his cut from the glass. From meeting Sosuke and experiencing things such as human food, Ponyo begins to develop a love for humans and their world. However, just as Ponyo and Sosuke begin developing a friendship, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), her wizard father who has rejected the human world, takes her back to the ocean.
Away from the human world, Ponyo’s curiosity and desire to experience human things becomes so strong even Fujimoto cannot contain her. Ponyo breaks free of her ocean home and returns to Sosuke, with a more human-like appearance. But by doing so, she unintentionally unleashes magical potions and elixirs, causing a violent storm in the oceans around Sosuke’s home. Fujimoto turns to Ponyo’s mother Granmamare (Cate Blanchett), seen in the illustration, in a bid to resolve the chaos. They both want the balance of nature to be restored and Ponyo to be happy, whether that’s as a human or a fish, thus granting Ponyo her wish to become human. This bizarre, charming film illustrates how Ponyo grows and discovers who she is.
There are elements of these films that are relevant for our own lives, such as taking risks, stepping into the unknown and connecting with people. The trailers of The Darjeeling Limited, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Ponyo are available on the Storehouse website, alongside music from the films on the Storehouse Issue 23 Spotify playlist.
Words: Emily Johnson, Storehouse Content Team, @emilyj.illustration