Thursday, May 2, 2019

Missionary Movie Churches Month Begins with: The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
“The Call" is a term used in some Christian circles. It's generally short for “the call to ministry,” particularly to the mission field. Notice that little word “to,” because it’s important.

It’s a positive word. Going “to” God’s work -- as opposed to running “from” something. People do that, too -- take up missionary work to get away from something else.

Going off to join the French Foreign Legion is an old movie cliche, and not just in films like Beau Geste. Many films and cartoons mention it as a option when a man is besieged by problems, but the Legion was never an option for people who don’t like guns and sand. For most of the institution’s history, it wasn't an option for women. So where else could a person go to get away from it all? How about the mission field?

Becoming a missionary was the escape of choice for characters in both versions of Murder on the Orient Express we watched here at Movie Churches, and it also seems to be the choice of Patricia (Anjelica Huston), the mother of grown sons, in Wes Anderson’s 2007 film, The Darjeeling Limited.

The film tells the story of Francis (Owen Wilson), a troubled man, who asks his two brothers, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), to join him on a spiritual journey to explore the holy sites of India. He has quite the itinerary, with stops at such places as the Temple of a Thousand Bulls (“probably the most spiritual place in the world”), but Francis hasn't told his brothers his true goal: finding their mother.

He eventually tells them, “I hired a private detective to track down mom. She’s living in a convent in the foothills of the Himalayas. She became a nun, you know how she is. She’s probably suffered some kind of mental collapse.”

The brothers were quite upset when their mother didn’t attend their father's funeral after his sudden, accidental death. (The brothers didn't attend the service either, which is a story at the heart of one of the film’s flashbacks.) Peter and Jack aren't certain Francis should have tried to contact their mother once the detective found her. And they don't like that he sent her a message saying they're coming to visit her.

Their mother responds with this letter: “Dear boys: Bad timing. This morning I received the details of your travel plans in a document from a man named Brendan. Unfortunately, I cannot receive you now. A neighboring village requires our urgent assistance due to an emergency, not to mention the arrival of a man-eating tiger in the region. You should come in the spring when you’ll be safe. You must know how sad I am to experience this long separation. I hope you’ll eventually understand and forgive me. God bless and keep you with Mary’s benevolent guidance and the light of Christ’s enduring grace. All my love, your mother, Sister Patricia Whitman”

This letter seems to have many religious bells and whistles, but what seems to be lacking is genuine love and concern for her grown sons.

They come to see her anyway, finding her at a convent that also seems to serve as an orphanage. She greets her sons with these words, “Didn’t you get my letter? I told to come back in the spring. Welcome, my beautiful boys.”

We see her teaching children and even worshiping with them (as they sing “Praise Him in the Morning.”) The place is decorated with crosses (interestingly, not crucifixes.) The children play and seem to be happy.

The sons ask her why she didn’t come to their father -- her husband’s -- funeral. She answers, “I didn’t want to. I live here, these people need me.” But she tells her sons they must enjoy the time they have together (“Let’s make an agreement. We’ll enjoy ourselves and stop feeling sorry for ourselves because it’s not attractive.”) She takes their breakfast orders for the next day (actually making assumptions about what each of her sons desire), and leaves them for the night.

And the next morning, the boys find that she's gone. It's a little difficult to believe she was in India because people needed her. She runs so easily.

Paul’s instructions for the qualifications for church leadership discuss handling personal affairs well and being attentive to one's own children. That doesn’t mean having to look after grown children, particularly the annoying grown men that are Patricia's sons. But a leader should be making decisions with honesty, openness, and integrity, which doesn’t seem to be the case with this woman. Instead of being called to the mission field, it seems like she's just running from her family.

That’s why Patricia the Nun received only 2 out of 4 Steeples in our Movie Church clergy rating.

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