The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

4 films that will make you want to travel — and one that won’t!

Now, there’s a pretty standard list of travel-inspiring movies out there; it’s everywhere you look online, and it goes something like this:

But I wanted to give you some slightly more alternative choices — because I try to avoid being ordinary whenever possible. Yes, okay, you can say it — because I’m downright weird. So in place of those otherwise awesome films, may I present to you the following movies which have inspired me personally:

1) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), directed by Stephan Elliot

Why I love this film: It’s ridiculous and lots of fun, which is pretty much how I think all life should be! As three Sydney drag queens travel through the barren Australian outback, we get to see that iconic terrain, vast and empty and aching to be explored. This film has it all: humor, a light-hearted way of handling a serious message (about homophobia) and visuals to die for as the trio procession through some of Australia’s most awe-inspiring scenery. In a big pink bus.
Personal note: Not only did I travel to Australia and fall in love with a woman who considers this her favorite movie ever –- I also had the good fortune to be with her when she decided to re-enact one of the film’s famous scenes, when the drag queens hike around King’s Canyon in their fabulous dresses! I’d say we got mixed reactions from the other tourists — probably me, most of all…
Memorable line:

Felicia: The only life I saw for the last million miles were the hypnotized bunnies. Most of them are now wedged in the tires.

2) Black Sheep (2007), directed by Jonathan King

Also ran: Actually, I was going to nominate The Lord of the Rings trilogy but then decided — NO! I can’t use it. It’s too easy. Plus we’ve already had one film with Hugo Weaving (the mighty Elrond played a drag queen in Priscilla!). I know, across the three films they showcase the sights of New Zealand at their jaw-dropping best — anyone who hasn’t watched these films and felt an urgent need to visit New Zealand needs to watch them again but ignore the kick-ass sword fighting… Yeah, I know. That’s never going to happen.
Why Black Sheep won out: The rugged landscape looks every bit as impressive in this movie as it does in Lord of the Rings — but it’s also populated by were-sheep, an accidental result of some unusual genetic manipulation… See it, and laugh at the New Zealanders. Oddly enough, they’ll love you for it. It’s the Kiwis’ love of poking fun at everything, especially themselves — their self-deprecating humor — that really made me want to visit the place. I felt like I would fit in there. And I did — I stayed for two years. By the time I left, I was on a first-name basis with the entire population.
Memorable lines:

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand…and they’re pi**ed off!

Harry (as the were-sheep charge towards them): F**k, the sheep!
Tucker: No mate, we haven’t time for that.

3) Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola

Why I love this film: It’s an odd one, this one. The first time I watched it, my mind boggled at how something so boring, with nothing remotely resembling a plot, could get made into a movie. Then I watched it again. And again. Because it was the rainy season in Thailand, where I was living, so I couldn’t go outside — and we only had three DVDs in English, so we watched all of them every day. For two months. Somewhere around the halfway point of this torturous process, I fell in love with Lost in Translation — maybe I just needed to relax to appreciate it? Once I stopped looking for something to happen, I started to understand what it was all about: loneliness, uncertainty, being adrift and confused in a completely alien culture. And ever since then I’ve desperately wanted to go to Tokyo. Well, not enough to actually go there — yet — but you know what I mean. I do travel vicariously — just sometimes — and this is one of ‘em.
Caveat: If, like me, you’re a fan of films where, you know, stuff happens — it might take you a few viewings to get used to it. Forty or fifty should do the trick.
Memorable line:

Charlotte: Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.

4) Ip Man (2008), directed by Wilson Yip

Why I love this film: The closest I’ve come to China are the little “made in” labels on almost everything I own. This film, however, kindled a desire to visit China that I never knew I had in me. It’s the biographical story of the most famous kung fu practitioner in the world — not Bruce Lee but his teacher in Wing Chun kung fu, master Ip Man. It’s set in Foshan, China in the 1930s-40s during the Japanese Invasion, but was filmed in Shanghai. It follows the family of the master as he becomes ensnared in the war, losing everything over the course of the Occupation and being forced to face the hardest choices a man could make. The insight into a lifestyle and culture so utterly different from my own was fascinating enough, but this is a story both moving and powerful.
Audience participation: I dare anyone to watch it and not leap off the couch at some point with a cry of “Yeah, kick his ASS!” Ahem. Okay, so maybe that’s just me.
In sum: Will it make you want to visit China? I think so. Will it make you want to learn kung fu? I absolutely guarantee it!

And because I’m a contrary kind of guy, I just had to retaliate against my own optimism by highlighting a film that made me NOT want to travel:

5) Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund

Why I don’t recommend this film: The film is set in the 1970s, in the poorest districts surrounding Rio de Janeiro, where drugs and guns rule and the population live in a fear only matched by their misery. I saw it in South America, in its native Portuguese — but with Spanish subtitles. Given my fledgeling abilities in that language, as described in a previous post, I may have failed to grasp every nuance of the story, but basically what I took from it was: “DON’T EVER GO THERE! They will kill you for the hell of it.”
Analysis:There is poverty everywhere in the world — I’ve worked in homeless shelters in the UK and seen people every bit as desperate as the denizens of Brazilian favelas (shanty towns). But these kind of places, where automatic weapons are more readily available than McDonald’s hamburgers and life is so very cheap…they absolutely terrify me.
In sum: Brazil remains on my list of all-time favorite, must-visit countries — but no way am I going anywhere near the favelas in Rio. This film has put me off — for life.

* * *

And finally…there’s one character that stands head and shoulders (and hat!) above all the rest when it comes to inspiring my travels. I’ve carefully avoided mentioning his films, as I was trying hard to keep this a cheese-free list — but I can’t hold it in any more.


I know, I know! So does everybody in the world, ever. Even people in remote tribes that have never been contacted by the Western world, secretly harbor a desire to be Indiana Jones — they just don’t know how to put it into words.

So — now it’s your turn!
1) What films have made you want to travel? And why?
2) What films have made you want to run screaming from the very idea of travel — and why?
3) If you WERE Indiana Jones — what would you do?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post on cinema and the expat life.

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Images: Tony James Slater (yes, that’s really him!) playing out his fantasy of being Indiana Jones; film posters courtesy Wikipedia.

10 responses to “4 films that will make you want to travel — and one that won’t!

  1. JennaJenna February 21, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Nice! Some friendly faces here, as well as new ones to check out.

    I saw Shirley Valentine when I was growing up – kind of a quirky feel-good comedy – and it had a huge impact. Not just about travelling, but living abroad: If you’re not satisfied with your home status quo, you really CAN leave and live completely differently elsewhere!

    • Tony James Slater February 22, 2012 at 2:04 am

      Haha! I LOVE Shirley Valentine! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I haven’t seen it in years, but my whole family used to watch it quite often. I think that film os the only reason we ever managed to get my Dad out of England – to Greece, of course!

  2. Spinster February 21, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Funny that you mentioned Cidade de Deus because not only is it one of my favorite movies, it also made me wanna learn Portuguese AND visit Brazil even more. (Probably wouldn’t venture too far into the favelas, but hopefully you get my point.)

    • Tony James Slater February 22, 2012 at 2:08 am

      I really wanted to learn portuguese afterwards – if only so I could follow the story better next time! But I was in Ecuador when I was watching it, and it seemed a bit too close to home – we’d already had armed gangs try to break into our house a couple of times and it was playing on my mind!
      I’ve since watched it and appreciated it a little better (with English subtitles!) – but I still don’t fancy the Favelas. But then, they’re not exactly on the tourist trail – everywhere has a place tourists shouldn’t go, from Bangkok to LA, so it’s not fair let something like this colour my judgement. In fact I’m already planning a trip to South America, including Brazil, next year – to coincide with the end of the Mayan long-count calendar!!

      • Spinster February 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        Agreed. Gotta use common sense & street smarts; it’s never a good idea to place oneself in danger on purpose. But yeah… Cidade de Deus fascinates me and it made me wanna learn the language & visit.

  3. ML Awanohara February 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    #3, Lost in Translation, is rather extreme for such a list, don’t you think? For me, that film was rather irritating. Not just the lack of plot but the lack of imagination on the part of the main characters. The image that most stands out in my mind is of Scarlett Johansson trying to place a flower stalk in an ikebana arrangement, her eyes full of ennui.

    That said, I’m willing to grant I might be missing something. Roger Ebert has it on his list of “great movies.” You’ve listed it here. What’s more, L in T is the rare film that addresses themes close to the heart of The Displaced Nation. As Wikipedia puts it:

    The two central characters in the film—Bob and Charlotte, both Americans—find themselves “lost” in a culture that is foreign to them, and their displaced location during their blossoming friendship enhances their connection with one another.

    So am I like you — I need to see it several times before I “get” it?

    Even so, I still have to wonder: did it really make you want to go to Japan? And what made you want to go — the karaoke scene?!

  4. awindram February 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    @MLA I’m unconvinced you personally would have anything to gain from revisiting Lost in Translation. I think its premise hinges on Japan representing a confusing “other”. It’s not about trying to understand or get to grips with that “other” (which you did), it’s just backdrop for the main character’s sense of dislocation. Considering all the years you spent in Japan, I think you might be rolling your eyes.

    • ML Awanohara February 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Well, I was assuming that a critic like Roger Ebert wouldn’t think it’s a great film if it were just about Japan. And that Sofia Coppola picked Japan as the backdrop only because she thought it was the strangest country (which, leading sociologists assure me, it is!). That way, she could explore the transcendent theme of a friendship blossoming out of being lost in a foreign culture… But surely I should have been able to pick some of that up, despite my attachment to Tokyo?

      • awindram February 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm

        Ignoring that I don’t hold Ebert with the same esteem you do as a critic, I find Coppola’s work treads a fine line between being enchanting and tediously navel-gazing. I would think any slight irritation a viewer might have with the Japan depicted would break any enchantment with that movie or stop it from happening in the first place.

        • ML Awanohara February 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm

          Touché! That’s exactly what happened. But that still doesn’t explain the mystery of why TJ included this on his list — unless he was pulling our leg, trying to make sure we are all awake?

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