As far as good films go, I have seen many, of tiffinboxes, milkshakes poetry, talkative Jewish men, talkative French women, concierges from hotels atop glass mountains, tales long and drawn, but if one bears a bookmark in the confident filmmaker’s tune, there is one known for Penelope and The Brothers Bloom.
When we were younger, my brother and I were obsessed with Rube Goldberg machinations. We also, somehow, found immense energy and resourcefulness to build entire cities out of all the brick toys, and bottles covered in paper mache, just like Rob from Mad in Pogo channel showed us to, albeit not as professional looking. Blueprints drawn and painted, exploring Microsoft Project and PowerPoint, we used clip art and word art, spent endless hours arguing over the right moat shape, or dominoes stack to place. All to make each other feel more- what? Responsible, culpable, smart, grown up?
Unfortunately, there were many a mishaps, trials and tribulations we had to face. So many projects left waiting, cardboard castles lay abandoned, deer dolls lost entire forests to our mother’s hasty cleaning up. We had limited fevicol, not the right texture of green for the treebark, not enough patience to understand the right papercut for humming bird origami. Nevertheless, with my brother’s sciency-weincy thought processes and my tenacious creativity we tried to get past these hopeless impediments, every summer, to make our own puppet shows, space city or old kingdoms.
Then we would play an elaborate dress up game, make ourselves the kings and queens, Snow White and Aladdin, poor peasant girl and Puss in boots. Whichever film caught our fancy, whichever story ( Mostly, The Famous Five adventuring) captured my imagination, we tried to make it happen to us. We were intent on catching the puppynapper, or looking for Shyam and Supandi’s misplaced ornaments. Weeks earlier we would have hidden small chits with certain clues for either of us to exclaim at, hoping we forgot as we started the actual investigation, hoping mother had not swept them away.
Oh well, those were the perils of a childhood with limited access to the internet, without any friends in the neighbourhood.
Parks of Muscat and JP Nagar had the unfortunate tendency towards not quite the “Playground Bourgeoisie”, but the Bullies. Parks were the battleground arenas of Childhood.
This is what I’m reminded of, as I re-watch The Brothers Bloom.
Rian Johnson concocts such a fascinating medley of characters. I adore this film. In all the con films, and detective mystery films and TV show- the most lighthearted ones, at least- the track back to the conman’s actions are the most delightful part of the sequence in plotline. The “whodunit?” is also a sketch of “how’dtheydoit?”. Perhaps the most reliable use of this technique was noticeably in How I met Your Mother, with Barney’s playbook, The Robin playact, particularly. Barney sets up elaborate “trap chics” sets. The implausibility of it all, notwithstanding, the Arrival of the Playbook is a huge affair in three setup’s explanation. Case in point- The Scuba Diver.
In The Brothers Bloom, we see the unfolding of the methodical plans from the cons’ perspective. Even as the narrator tells us about the many conman stories, there is a certain style set in the tone of the narration and dialogue that follows a certain rhyming structure which makes the film more fantastical than real life. The film itself is a showmanship in play. The young brothers even dress differently from The Playground Bourgeoisie. (For the record I always considered the playground of Bengaluru’s vast and now not so bountiful parks were Childhood Battlegrounds. Many a wars were fought for the slide and many battles lost to the merry-go-rounds and none more so, than for the swings.) The Rian Johnson direction is indie enough to feature growing distance by zooming in shots, isolated objects focused on, extremely detailed sets in cinematography, 360 surround pan shots et all. He even throws in a few Rudyard Kipling and magic tricks, card tricks, circus life, abandoned theatres and a lone zoo camel references. Catch Joseph Gordon-Levitt maybe? The music is of a jazz-ish sort, oldish European con-men stories extravaganza!
Penelope is a ball of rubberbands. Except the rubberbands are all quirks. Her story is inspiring and matchless. She is that eccentric manic-pixie-dream girl trope realized in a more humane realistic way. Wondrously so, because despite her unconventional, bizarre mannerisms, she is relatable. I bet Rian Johnson had a ball of a time, fixing her up. No wait. Bang Bang would have been the most fun character to write, but that is the wonder of Rian Johnson’s writing. It passes the Beschdel test in a flash.
Steven’s intentions are murkier. The showmanship rush of his successful cons notwithstanding, for the larger scale, they have to serve purpose. Thematic arcs, embedded symbolism. (Just like this movie. Watch for the Graffitti on the wall with a “boom!”-ing door.) We know in the end.
Bloom’s life has always been a con of dissatisfaction because he has not passed that rite of passage called self discovery while questing on his brother Steven’s mastermind plans. He does not know real life from the cons. The tales do not become him. They are more fantastical than real life.
And who can blame him? I would love to live in that controlled experiment of life, where each step is a flowchart, with the next state in the diagram a graph, plotted and maybe a Venn diagram thrown in as well. Ah, for life to be a bullet journal!
And this is why this film is so close to my childhood. I wish I had a Diamond Dog in my life. More importantly, I want a prequel. Or is it a mid-quel?