Such an Uncertain Voyage, Such a Long Journey

By Blair Davis

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Such a Long Journey tells a complex story simply. This adaptation of Rohinton Mistry's award-winning novel is concerned with nothing less than finding the inner strength and peace to navigate through an increasingly complicated and chaotic world. The film simultaneously tells three stories concerning the roles we play as individuals in public, in private, and as part of society as a whole.

On the surface, the film depicts a routine morality play about an honest man (with the Dickensian name of Gustad Noble, one which he finds he must earn by the film's end) who finds himself in over his head with an embezzlement-type scheme. Yet beneath this veneer lies a story of personal turmoil, about a family's crisis as it struggles with the threat of loss. In the face of events over which he has varying degrees of control, Noble is at risk of losing his children, both literally and figuratively. This tension is further underscored by the film's chronological setting. The story is set in a Parsi community in Bombay in 1971, as India and Pakistan are at the brink of war and the threat of political upheaval is ever looming. The film is densely layered, as the choices that Noble must make in his public, private, and societal roles all reflect back upon one another. Throughout the film we watch the threads of his life start to fray and unravel.

The film's climax results in more than one breakdown - yet, while certain things of importance are demolished, others are restored at the same time.

The film's sense of humour is decidedly wry and mischievous from the very beginning. We are introduced to Noble and his family, who lovingly bicker and joke with one another. The opening sets the audience up for a family comedy, but the humour's purpose is deceptive. The more we learn about the film's political context, the more the character's humourous jabs at each other seem born out of the need for an emotional defense against the uncontrollable elements in their society.

Noble's moral position is defined early in the film, as he tries to instruct his son that suffering and sacrifice are necessary paths to success and fulfillment. He does not, however, always follow this philosophy himself. Just as he is unable to accept that his son does not wish to follow the intended path that he has steered him towards, Noble himself feels the need to resist the city's bureaucratic intentions of removing a now religious monument (but once unattractive and unsanitary wall) from in front of his home. He extends the same rebellious energies as his son, but is unable to see the parallel between their mutual resistance against societal institutions.

Despite his belief in the choices that he has made, Noble privately confesses an underlying sense of doubt, stating: "I don't understand this world anymore... What a world of wickedness it has become."The response to these ideas comes later in the film from Noble's bumptious co-worker and friend, Dinshawji, played by Sam Dastor (Made, Jinnah), who offers the quotation:

Ours is not to reason why,
Ours is but to do, or die.

The journey that Gustad Noble undergoes concerns how he comes to terms with these sentiments, in understanding that there are some things that he will not have the power to change in his life. The fact the film is set against a society in which political change seems imminent demonstrates just how richly layered it is, much like the layers of religious chalk drawings that are eventually portrayed on the wall that he tries to save. The film's climax results in more than one breakdown — yet, while certain things of importance are demolished, others are restored at the same time.

Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson (Gerrie & Louise, Diplomatic Immunity, The Diary of Evelyn Lau) is to be commended for not turning the film's emotional moments into melodrama, and allowing the actors to create sympathetic characters whose actions do not always inspire our compassion. Renowned actor Roshan Seth is nearly flawless as Gustad Noble, and praise is also due to Kurush Deboo (Percy) who plays an overly hyperactive mentally challenged man named Tehmul, not-so-affectionately labeled "Scrambled Eggs" by his neighbors. His performance could have been taken over the top in the hands of a lesser actor, or manipulated for unnecessary comic relief, yet he succeeds in presenting us with a character that is fully realized rather than one-note. As such, he turns what could easily have been a highly annoying performance into a very watchable one.

My only complaints about the film are minor ones dealing with a few surface details. The use of flashbacks in the film are not handled well, and make certain moments at the beginning of the film structurally awkward, as we learn about some key events in Noble's past. These flashbacks often complicate rather than simplify, and would have been better left out of the adaptation, or else their content handled differently.

Related to these flashbacks is the overuse of a yellow tinge by cinematographer Jan Kiesser when lighting certain scenes of emotional importance, in both past and present sequences in the film, blanketing his subjects in an overly warm glow. This effect creates a forced, hyper-naturalistic feeling, and I would rather have seen the actors bring such a mood to the screen on their own, instead of having it filtered down upon them from above. Aside from this small point, however, the cinematography is commendable, as Kiesser repeatedly uses light to create a contrast of textures; flashes of colour are often abruptly contrasted against neutral tones; beads of dripping sweat against dry or dirty skin; warm flesh against cold plastic.

Such a Long Journey is a film not to be overlooked. It can be viewed on many levels, because of the many layers that it contains, and as such it should please a variety of different crowds. In closing, I offer the following quote from Shakespeare (which is only fitting, since the Bard's works serve as a plot device in the film, literally), from the lesser known play Timon of Athens-Act. V, Sc. 1:

And tell them that, to ease them of
their griefs,
Their fears of hostile strokes, their
aches, losses,
Their pangs of love, with other
incident throes
That nature's fragile vessel doth
In life's uncertain voyage...

Handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
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Blair Davis is a freelancer writer who lives in Vancouver.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
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