A couple of months back, I wrote the following note to my friend Ron, at whose urging Scott and I had watched The Tree of Life. “I could write a thousand words about the film,” I’d warned him the day after we saw it, and a day or two later I did go on for nearly that long—an unpolished meditation on the movie, which I’m pasting below.
Tree of Life…my thousand words aren’t going to happen in any kind of articulate order, not with all the other writing sitting on top of me. But I’m still thinking about it, in that close-your-eyes-and-replay-a-moment way that doesn’t happen often. I owe you thanks—if not for you I might not have hung in long enough, I’d have been like ‘this is lovely but…’—I’m aware, and mostly unapologetic, that my film tastes have degraded a bit toward a preference for easy entertainment that doesn’t make me work. (With TV I’m more discerning, because it’s shorter. I enjoy smart, difficult TV—but a show is usually under an hour. The fact is that at the end of the day, I’m completely done in and films are long. Hard, under those circumstances. I’d feel guilty about it except that I know I’m still pushing myself to read challenging things and to think and assimilate. By 9pm, when we have a chance to sit down alone in front of the television, I’m just…done.)
But I wanted to see what moved you so deeply about it, so I hung in there, like physically sat up so I wouldn’t drift off…and oh! Both of us were sort of breathless about it. I felt my brain make a shift in the middle. At first I felt somewhat resentful or impatient with the long silences, even as I acknowledged that they were visually quite wonderful, not just the lovely images but the range of thoughts & emotions passing over an actor’s face while the camera lingered long, long, long in a particular shot—resentful because so little was being said overtly, and I knew I was being asked to think, to write much of the internal dialogue myself, to read the symbols. It irked me a little; I don’t come to films to do more writing. But gradually, I gave myself over to what the film was asking of me, and it was one of those rare transformative experiences where you know you’re walking to bed a slightly different person than you woke up.
Am intrigued by the conflict presented in the opening, nature vs. grace, and the way the images belied the words. She’s talking about ‘the way of nature’ (human nature) and ‘the way of grace’ (presented as opposing or contradictory paths) but on the word ‘grace’ we get that glorious shot of sunflowers (flowers that turn their faces toward the light)…and all through the rest of the film, it’s like that; grace is always shown via a sublime natural image. Looking up at the sky through trees means reaching for God. Touching the grass is the moment the grown son begins to heal & reconnect with the spiritual. Water seemed to mean the current of life carrying us forward (toward the churning waterfall, death), always with overtones of death, a hint of something inescapable to come. Bathing the baby, the baptism, the incident at the pool. Water, too, was almost always in the best, happiest family moments—the spraying of the hose, usually the mother, once the father—though he carried the hose with a kink in it to stop the water flowing out, exerting control (fruitless in the end)—such a strong image there, of his attempting to control his life, his family, and being ultimately powerless to.
In many ways the father seemed to represent a kind of Old Testament God —stern, demanding, controlling, punitive, never satisfied, requiring obeisance and craving love, almost demanding love. Through the mother and the imagery surrounding her, we see nature and harmony and beauty, a constant yearning upward towards the sublime, a bit of a mother earth/mother goddess thing going on there, except powerless, easily overpowered or dominated by man, so more like simply earth.
The white linens blowing in the windows, nearly always associated with the mother, gentleness, peace, happiness—sometimes the mother and children play in the curtains, draping them over their faces. (Suggesting a shroud? Peaceful death?) Very often, the curtains are moved by wind—the breath of God, inspiration, the ‘moving of the spirit.’
I spent a long time wondering what Terrence Malick’s views are, and what he was trying to suggest….a belief in an active Spirit or Force? Certainly his characters expressed a yearning upward, a longing for there to be some meaning or purpose behind the seemingly random chain of creation (and oh how I loved those parts of the film, the millennia of life surging forward)—and the delicate and lovely beach reunions at the end would suggest a belief in soul, redemption, reconciliation. But always I felt a tension between what was being said and what was being shown. The moments of purest joy were always connected to nature. The ‘way of grace’ was to walk in the natural world, to delight like children in sensual experience. In the boys’ happiest moments they are tumbling around like puppies, like wolf cubs, or running, exulting in the sheer grace of the human body. (Especially in that one powerful scene when the father was away on business and the boys tore through the house, celebrating his absence, bursting outside into the yard, letting the door bang behind them—pure joy in their freedom.) The mother, too, running with them, being playful with them.
There’s lots more to say, I’m not doing more than pouring out notes here, but then again it’s barely six a.m. and it’s a wonder I’m thinking at all.
He watched this movie with me because it jumped back into my mind, full force, every single lyric intact, my entire being once more suffused with a yearning to wear ribbon barrettes and flowing skirts while dancing on roller skates, and I couldn’t live another night without having all that synthesizery goodbadness etched into his brain too.
He endured every terrible, terrible line of dialogue and crater-sized plot hole, and he even found the “Whenever You’re Away from Me” number as charming as I do.
This clip is NOT that number. “Charming” is not the word for it. A Giant Glittering Mess of Audio-Visual Cheesepuffery is what this is.
Worth noting: we realized that the same summer I watched Xanadu on an endless loop, Scott watched Kramer vs. Kramer 37 times. This may explain a lot about the way each of us turned out.
An almost certainly incomplete list of the films Jane and Scott have watched in their Film Club this year. Scott’s pretty sure there were more John Wayne movies, among others.
(alphabetical, not in order viewed)
Benny and Joon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Buddy Holly Story
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A Few Good Men
Field of Dreams
Good Will Hunting
The Horse Soldiers
In the Line of Fire
The Karate Kid
A League of Their Own
Max Dugan Returns
Men in Black
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
My Darling Clementine
The Princess Bride
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Romancing the Stone
The Sixth Sense
Stand by Me
Trouble Along the Way
…while Pod is not particularly loquacious in the novel, neither is he reserved. In a scene after Pod has discovered that Arrietty has spoken to “the boy,” Pod speaks quite a bit.
When Arrietty defends herself, saying the boy has agreed to deliver a letter she has written to Borrowers living elsewhere, he appears to take some grim satisfaction in his scornfully elaborate explication of the uselessness of Arrietty’s act: “…do you see your mother walking across two fields and a garden…two fields full of crows and cows and horses and what-not, to take a cup of tea with your Aunt Lupy, whom she never much liked anyway?” There is a lavishness in Pod’s amplification that can only be achieved through the protracted use of language. Not for him, the effect of understated brevity. Ghibli’s Pod, on the other hand, barely speaks unless strictly necessary—and even then he sometimes remains reticent in situations when a tad more back and forth might be deemed obligatory. His lack of words might seem unduly taciturn in a Western context, but, as in the original, he is portrayed as a sympathetic character. Just not a very talkative one.
I don’t know…some worrisome glimpses there. Looks like they’ve added a conflict subplot for Edmund—back in England, the war is on, and they won’t let a mere “squirt” join up. “But I’m a king!” he huffs to Lucy. Argh. Even worse, later in the trailer the White Witch appears in some sort of vision to tempt him. Really? Really? Edmund is so beyond that. After his fall and redemption in LWW, he’s one of the staunchest, most honorable young men in either world.
Equally puzzling: Eustace is barely present in the trailer. All the focus is on Edmund and Lucy, and Ian McKellan’s*,** voice uttering vague yet grand pronouncements about their adventure just beginning. No dragon. Scarcely any indication that Eustace is along for the journey at all. Perhaps in this early trailer, they’re targeting fans who know the films better than the books?
The Dufflepuds look good, though.
*I wrote “Patrick Stewart” before. I knew it was Ian; nearly made a Gandalf reference; I think I must have had Patrick’s name lodged in my mind because of Scott’s dramatic recitation yesterday.
**Except!! I am totally wrong. It’s Liam Neeson. LOL! Thanks, Robin, for the heads-up! Oh, these actors with their sonorous voices!
I’ve studded my Netflix queue with your suggestions, and the Beavers* movie a couple of you raved about sounded so intriguing we bumped it to the top of the list.
Stunning movie. The cinematography will knock your socks off. I kept thinking, this can’t be real, it’s like really good CGI…But it’s real. Up close, delightfully personal, and captivating. Rose and Beanie watched the movie three times, I think. (It isn’t very long, alas.) And I snuck in an encore viewing myself—I couldn’t resist showing it to Scott, you see.
There were beavers on the undeveloped land surrounding our old neighborhood; they had a big lodge downstream of the place the kids called the Rock Store, named after a splashy afternoon spent collecting and displaying stony wares on a big flat boulder where the creek ran wide. To get to the Rock Store, you had to hike through a field that had once been young woods. The beavers had turned it to meadow, and we marveled at the stubby, pointy tree trunks left behind, so exactly like pictures we’d seen in books.
As the creek wended its way toward the marshy basin where a bald eagle was rumored to fish, it gurgled past trees whose lower trunks had been wrapped with chicken wire: the attempt of a concerned neighbor to save our woods from the enterprising beaver clan. Undaunted, the beavers turned their attention to a location half a mile away, where slender trees shaded the small pond that welcomes people into the neighborhood. One by one, those trees began to topple.
The film’s narrator remarked that after humans, beavers wreak more change upon the landscape than any other animal.
They dance, too; did you know that?
Excellent tip, ladies. I hadn’t realized you could get IMAX films on DVD—you can bet we’ll be checking out a good many more. The whales movie, for starters…
*Link added per Brigid’s request…always happy to oblige our Brigid!
Look at this list! I’m going to put in bold the films we’ve already seen ("we" meaning my kids, really, since I’ve seen many more titles on the list than they have).
Heidi (Sarah wants to know which version?) Charlotte’s Web Homeward Bound Beatrix Potter Collection Peter Pan, Cathy Rigby version (look on eBay) Little House on the Prairie, Disney version Frontier House One Night with the King Bridge to Terebithia Secret of Roan Inish Anne of Green Gables Anne of Avonlea (1975 BBC version) IMAX movies like the one on beavers (This one is going at the top of my queue!) Night at the Museum
Bringing Up Baby
A Bug’s Life
Darby O’Gill and the Little People You Can’t Take it With You
Building Big with David Macaulay (a few scary scenes for more sensitive types)
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950s version)
Akeelah and the Bee (slight language issues)
I Remember Mama
Pride of the Yankees
Spirit of Saint Louis Emma, both the Kate Beckinsale & Gwyneth Paltrow versions were recommended (I’m partial to the Kate one, myself) Pride & Prejudice, BBC version (but of course!!) Sense & Sensibility Nanny McPhee
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
National Velvet (old one with E. Taylor)
Fairy Tale: A True Story
The Black Stallion
The Iron Giant
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Miss Potter A Little Princess (not Shirley Temple version) BBC Planet Earth series Yours, Mine, & Ours (Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda version) Pollyanna
Lassie (2005 version)
Natl Geographic Inside the Vatican
Life with Father
Martha Stewart dvds
Mr Blanding… Railway Children Connections w/ James Burke (This is available online, too, did you know? I saw a link at Sandra Dodd’s site.) Hayley Mills movies (we’ve seen Pollyanna, Summer Magic, The Parent Trap) The Sound of Music Matilda Mary Poppins 1776
and this list by Colleen, with this caveat: "…some
have language and/or mild sexual content that others might be
uncomfortable with. Some would definitely be more appropriate for
older, mature children. We tend to worry much more about violence at
The Snow Walker
Mad Hot Ballroom
The Ron Clark Story (unique chance for my homeschooled kids to get a look at inner city New York schooling)
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
Rabbit Proof Fence
Follow Me, Boys!
The Apple Dumpling Gang
Children of Heaven
Series wise, we’ve enjoyed The Waltons, All Creatures Great and Small,
and the early years of Monarch of the Glen. My kids also liked As Time
Goes By, although mainly this was a treat for their parents!!
In the comments of yesterday’s post, Faith mentioned Netflix and Ana mentioned the movie version of The Railway Children. That reminded me that I’d been meaning to mention that video myself—we were given a copy as a gift a few years ago, and we watched it again last weekend, and ohhhh I do love that movie. It’s one of those rare cases where I like the movie version just as well as I like the book—and I like the book a lot. It’s my favorite Nesbit novel.
Anyway, Faith and Ana reminded me that I keep meaning to stack our Netflix queue with some good movies for the girls and me to watch this summer. What are your family’s favorites? Hit me!