"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
-- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma'us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him[...]So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?""
-- The Gospel of Luke
(Note: A full review is forthcoming once I have a few more days to think about things; however, you still may encounter some spoilery things in here. There's your warning.)
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in regards to my review of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, so while I figure that out, I thought I would just post a quick thought or two. The above passages swam through my head as I exited the theater this afternoon and walked around downtown Portland. I didn't want to go home, so I did what Malick's characters spend a good chunk of the film doing: I wandered around and collected my thoughts and tried (oh, I tried) to keep it together and get my bearings.
I basically came away with these thoughts before I decided to drive home (some of this is going to be stream-of-conscious -- which I suppose seems appropriate -- so hang with me):
- This film (and Malick in general) is full of contradictions. But so what. This is why I thought of that Whitman quote. Malick is a massive artist like Whitman was (look for him under your boot sole...he's still there) and indeed contains multitudes (sure, I took a spiritual approach to deconstructing my first reading of this film, but it doesn't just have to be that reading; this is a film that contains multiple readings). Thoreau is another apt comparison, but I like Whitman better because not only did he contain multitudes, but he was an audacious man, and, man, The Tree of Life is one audacious picture.
- I also gathered that this film was about our recognition (or lack thereof) to things in life that make our "hearts burn" like the apostles in the Gospel of Luke.
- "The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by." What a great freaking line. It's even more powerful within the context of the film as it accompanies (it's a voiceover) one of the most poignant and emotionally charged (and one of the most simple, I think) shots of the movie: The O'Brien's looking back on their now former home.
- I also thought of William James (hey, I was a religion/philosophy minor) and how he states that (paraphrasing here) when we have genuine option that cannot be decided solely on intellectual grounds, that we must allow our passionate nature to rule. No, I cannot intellectually explain why I was so affected by the film (although, I will give it a go in a more formal piece), I just know that it stirred within me very real emotions about the More, God, life, living, grace, and love; the very things that help me make sense of this world. Religion isn't even in the equation here; this is about what predates religion, what is bigger than religion, and, what is needed more than religion in order for humanity to survive (too much?). That's what it means, I think, for my passionate nature to rule (this is all so subjective, obviously).
- The creation of Earth is one of the most remarkable sequences I've ever seen. I also loved the scene with dinosaur. And yes, I saw it as a display of grace and dominance...much like Jack's parents.
- The first montage had me in tears...and thinking about afterwards had me in tears. I have two brothers, so really all of the Waco scenes stirred something within me.
- I loved (LOVED) that ending. I don't care what people say about it. It reminded me of 8 1/2.
- Jack (Sean Penn) is an architect who feels "boxed in" by his blueprints (he also lives in a pretty sterile house that epitomizes the modern, detached aesthetic) and other aspects of his life; he's desperately trying to reconnect to his past to find something to stabilize his life -- something to give him meaning -- in an unstable, de-centered world. The steel towers he works in (that scale to the heavens -- always shown in an up-shot -- like a modern-day version of the trees Malick lovingly films throughout) are disconnected pieces of architecture that, like the trains that penetrate the once pure McCaslin plot in Faulkner's "The Bear", remind us that modernity, like nature (especially the way it's described in the film), does not care for things like grace. It evolves and conquered on its own accord (another prominent theme in Malick's films) even though grace is the one stabilizing factor in a world that is becoming more and more fragmented.
- I found it interesting that a lot of adult Jack in the beginning was juxtaposed with the images of hands. Malick employs his usual love of synec doche as he lovingly films arms, legs, feet, feet inside of hands, eyes, noses, hands, the top half of a face, the bottom half of a face, grass, curtains (lots of curtains!) blowing in the wind, etc. Back to the hands: This is Malick at his philosophical best, cautioning us not to forget about the human contact, the connection we have with others (the final shot, of a bridge, is a blatant reminder of this), with nature, and with spirituality, and how all of those things are not exclusive. They are all intertwined. I was particularly struck by how often Malick focused on hands in the film. We were meant to be connected. And it is this disconnection that is killing us. The rapidity of the modern world rarely stops to consider such things; our level of recognition is at an all-time low, and it seems to me that Malick is inviting us to wrestle with what he's wrestled with for decades.
- Which brings me to my last (and hopefully not too nonsensical) observation: the juxtaposition of the cosmic with the domestic. It seems to me that Malick is clearly stating that in order to understand the "Why?" (and a lot of the characters do ask why in their whispered narration), we must simply look for them in the small, everyday occurrences of life (I loved the courteous, Texas hat-tip the two gentleman give Jack's mother as they walk by, or the way the mother woke her kids up in the morning, the scene where the kids discover that dad -- sorry Father -- is on a business trip so they turn their house into a playground, or the scene with baby Jack and the toys in the front yard...I mean, there are so many) that we witness love and grace and joy.
- There are so many little moments in this film (I'm really curious how many shots were in this movie) that reminded me of those little things I choose to see in my day that make it all worth it, that make it all make (some) sense. There was so much here to take in; it was sensory overload (in a good way). Maybe that's why my head hurt a little bit when I left the theater: this was basically Malick's life (he's been wrestling with this concept forever, so I can't blame him for wanting to throw everything into this one) in under 2 hours and 20 minutes. That's a dizzying pace for the amount of stuff he's throwing at us, and it's naturally why I can't wait to give it another go and (to borrow a phrase from Jim Emerson) fully immerse myself a second and third and fourth time.