Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Namesake -- a review

If you have not yet watched the movie, “The Namesake” (rated PG-13), and think you’ll want to, do not read beyond the section break below – it will spoil the story for you! But if you have seen the movie, I’d love to hear your feedback. And if you haven’t, do watch it and then let me know what you think!

A friend recommended and loaned this movie to me, and I watched it last night. It is based on a book about an Indian family living in America, beginning with the new marriage of the mom and dad and their emigration from Calcutta to New York. We see a bit of the culture shock, the birth of their two children, and the beginning of adjustment to Indian life in the States.

Then the movie skips forward 13 years to the graduation of their elder child, a son, from high school. We see a glimpse of normal parent/teen struggles, compounded by cultural issues, but also the beauty of family and heritage. And finally the movie skips another few years, until their son is working as a twenty-something architect, and dating an Anglo-American. The focus then is on marriage and the value (or not) of furthering Bengali culture.

I really enjoyed this movie! The glimpses of Indian culture were fascinating and the Indian music was beautiful. I even thought of going out to buy the soundtrack.

The development of a loyal, loving marriage between mother and father (previously strangers to each other) is unusual and inspiring. To me, it was the most redeeming part of the entire story. The couple faces life in a new country, separation from extended family, raising children who think and behave within a different cultural worldview, and yet they stay together and grow stronger through the years. Their love truly deepens and their commitment never wavers. This provides a rock for their children and a beautiful role model for all around them.

Though not dealt with in-depth, cultural adjustment is fairly portrayed, showing both the struggles and accomplishments, the joys and sorrows. Having lived overseas myself for half of my life, I felt keenly the loss of living so far from one’s relatives. I also resonated, though, with the closeness one can feel with “adopted family” when one establishes deep friendships.

The topic of one’s split identity – between one’s past heritage and one’s new country – is portrayed more at length. It gave me more insight to immigrants and their children who are raised in a western culture. It seemed fairly portrayed and not sensationalized, though the son does participate in smoking and sexual relationships (for those who care, there is a scene of rear nudity, and two implied sex scenes).


My disappointments in the movie came in the last ten minutes or so, and almost spoiled the whole story for me. Two critical things happen at the end: 1) The father dies of a heart attack, prompting the mother to move back to India; and 2) The son’s Bengali wife admits an affair and leaves him.

I think the divorce was so troubling for two main reasons. Firstly because of the way it contrasts with the lasting marriage of mother and father. And secondly because of the struggle the son went through in deciding between marriage to an Anglo or a Bengali.

But the final thought voiced by both son and mother is the most troubling. After his wife has left him and her husband has died, son and mom agree that they only now finally feel free. The emphasis on freedom flies in the face of the values and sentiments explored earlier in the movie – the importance of family, the strength of cultural roots, the love of marital relationships.

Perhaps freedom was not intended to overpower the story’s other values, but because the movie ends on this note, it’s hard not to interpret it this way. I don’t know how I’d evaluate “The Namesake” if I had to rate it using a score. I went to bed feeling sad, confused and disillusioned. Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, and the movie was just being realistic. I don’t know… I’d love to know what you think!

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