…you’re not going to survive it anyway. (Anonymous)
It could be that I watched The Tree of Life on Friday that my thoughts are wandering off in philosophical and existential questions that remain unanswered in my head. It could also be what S. said about Monday blues and the thought of working for the next 40 years of our lives as we attacked hummus in our plates on Thursday night.
Leaving the cinema on Friday I felt puzzled by the movie that I was so eagerly anticipating, I had booked the tickets 3 weeks in advance. It was visually beautiful and yet it hardly managed to move me in any way (apart from several scenes that depicted brotherly love). When I arrived at Curzon, I couldn’t help but admire the setup on the bar level where tens of pictures of the film were layered on the wall and increased my anticipation even further. ‘Something that looks this good, has got to be amazing’, I thought to myself.
And yet when I left the cinema, I felt almost angry at the movie that had just gone through my eyes. It was stunning and admirable for its originality in featuring the pattern that our memories evoke as a motive running through it. I could see how this movie could be simply ‘bathing our pain’ as humankind ‘in beauty‘. But since the director chose to tackle so many of the issues in the movie with cliches, then let’s not forget that beauty is also in the eye of the beholder.
It is indeed true that The Tree of Life is a movie that may be stuck in your head for a few days and that is what certain critics have used in favour of the film to prove its creative merit. I think it’s probably spurred all this thought at least for one reason: how can it be the most highly rated movie of the year so far? Did I really not get it all? Is this what the meaning and beauty of life is all about?
That is what I was thinking again today while I was walking home after work, satisfied with a good day at the office and a great weekend behind me. A weekend in which I went to the cinema, drank a porn star martini, threw balls on coconuts in a village fair in Kent, bought a canvas for my artist friend (whose work accompanies this post) and spent the night at her house eating marshmallow cookies and drinking Pimms while listening about another friend’s love life (the word vicariously came up once or twice). And that doesn’t even include Sunday when I welcomed my new Kiwi flatmates to our flat, had a wicked roast dinner with extensive family, fed my English godson with a milk bottle and watched In the Night Garden with him so he could go to sleep.
The scenes that went through my eyes were not nearly as beautiful as the ones that Malick depicted in his movie. Chelsfield is not exactly idyllic and on my way back home on Saturday night I saw people throwing up on the corner of the street and underdressed women making out with random men on the other corner of the street. And don’t even get me started on Maka Paka.
And yet all these images seemed more real and more authentic than The Tree of Life – a sterilised vision of life where everything looks perfect and yet is so bland. Like that coffee table book that you buy and never bother to open twice. Where was passion and excitement, lust and meanness? Not a single gaze was sexual, food was merely there to sustain, music to impose itself. No books, no films, no cigarettes, no alcohol, no laughing out loud, no messing around, no fighting madly and then making up, no friends sharing secrets and drinking from the same glass. Malick’s obsession with nature overlooked the beauty and pleasures of the urban setting, the architecture, the culture, the hustle and bustle.
Yes, sunflowers are gorgeously shot and old fashioned shots of mums hanging sheets to dry while walking barefeet on the grass invoke a certain je ne sais quoi. But Jesus life can be beautiful if it’s dirty and messy and it sometimes stings really badly even when you haven’t lost family members, sometimes it can go on after you have lost loved ones and others it hurts until you die. But how many times do we have to go back to the 50s and 60s to see how simple everything was then when kids thought DDT was something to be playing around in?
The Tree of Life was ironically exactly like the setup of the Curzon cinema display: fragmented beautiful pieces of a life that struggled to find meaning but failed to provide any us such. Maybe life doesn’t always have to be about beauty. Maybe that’s the whole fecking point. But maybe it’s my gaze that’s different and I don’t see life, love and loss like Malick and so many critics do. Maybe I can’t see it that way yet because… holy shit, I am still young!