In Transit ★★★★★

Railroads play a big role in the modern imagination. Colonizing India or Africa or traversing the expanses of the US or Russia; Our global capitalist political reality would not be possible without the expansion of railroads around the world. And although today they mostly carry cargo and goods, railroads carried people for much of modern history. The Empire Builder, the focus of this incredible documentary, hurtles through time and space, lowering the inhibitions of everyone on board. And these film makers were there to capture their stories.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch in The Railway Journey describes how concepts of time and morality were changed during industrialization when railroads collapsed massive distances that were, until then, impossible to traverse. A similar collapsing of emotional distance happens in this film. In a scene that lasts less than three minutes, in the middle of the film, an old woman returning from seeing her daughter for the first time in 47 years, tells the story of her life. My eyes welled up for the first, but not the last, time.

Other railroad movies that rank high on my list include The Last Train Home and The Darjeeling Limited. In Transit may in fact be at top of that list now.