Nair’s attempt to condense Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel misses a few other beats. Leaps in time seem arbitrary, and attempts to draw distinctions between the first- and second-generation immigrants are too obvious (the son listens to heavy metal and gets high; both brother and sister find non-Indian lovers).

But the film’s color palette compensates mightily for any script deficiencies. Moving from vibrant reds and purples during the segments set in India to the drab snow-covered landscapes of America, before blooming again with reddish hues late in the film, “The Namesake” transcends its print origins in the one way all films should: through vibrant visuals. Another formal achievement – Nair’s placement of actors within the frame – keeps the viewer’s eyes actively wandering the entire film frame, absorbing the abundant riches on display. All of this gives the film a feeling of having been shot with a constantly moving camera, but the opposite is true. Nair has said her approach, in combination with cinematographer Fred Elmes, “conceived of each scene as a series of wide-angle shots, ‘democratic frames’ within which the actors, not the camera, would move in a choreographed swirl.”

It’s that “swirl” that remains after the film is over, a swirl that matches the immigrant experience, as depicted by Nair and written about by Lahiri. The overwhelming wonder of being in a new land and the isolation of the early days as they settle in lead to new shared experiences and practices that are passed on to children, and to the children’s children.

“Do you want me to say, ‘I love you,’ like the Americans?” Ashima asks Ashoke. But the loving look on her face tells Ashoke – and the viewers – all we need to know, demonstrating, as the movie does so well, that images can tell us more than the spoken word. In The Namesake, the words, at times, feel a little worn, but the images leave a lasting impression.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; some profanity; a man extends his middle finger at another person
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Brief drug use and references to bloodshot eyes; cigarette smoking; drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A husband and wife have sex, but no nudity is shown; a woman puts on her dress in front of a younger sibling; a man kisses and has sex with his girlfriend (he’s bare-chested, but there’s no other nudity during the scene); the same man later has sex with another girlfriend, whose backside is shown; discussion of multiple affairs, and a confession of adultery; a provocative wedding-night dance, some kissing in bed.
  • Violence:  A train wreck, with victims pictured; a corpse at the morgue is shown. 
  • Religion:  An Indian funeral ceremony; human ashes are spread in a river; excited discussion of Joseph Campbell’s “Follow Your Bliss” philosophy; a ceremony for a newborn includes a reference to the foretelling of the child’s future; a reference to a deceased individual being “with us.”