Monday 8 August 2011

tree of life

Last night I went to see Terence Malick's extraordinarily ambitious film The Tree of Life, an epic and exquisitely composed meditation on metaphysics, meaning, family and childhood, time, memory, love, loss, change, creation, connectivity, belief, grace, the cycles and phenomena of nature, the miraculous in the everyday (amongst other things).

In one of the deeply troubling scenes in which Brad Pitt's tyrannical father instils fear at the family dinner table, demanding a silence that is a violent silencing for his wife and children, a man in the front row of the cinema leaped to his feet to confront a woman who had been rustling a paper bag three rows back. It had been going on for a while, and it was a bit irritating and distracting. He had clearly reached a breaking point.

He marched round to her, stood directly in front of her, and said, quite loudly and aggressively, with much finger waving: 'Could you stop that now. I have had enough. I didn't come here to listen to you scrunching your bag, I came here to watch this film ... So stop ... If you do it again, you're out'. Silence as he returned to his seat. After a moment the woman, noticeably upset, turned to her friend or son, whispered something, and scurried up the aisle. A few minutes later she returned and they both left discreetly.

Without a whiff of self-consciousness or irony, this man had re-staged something of the explicit violence from the fiction onscreen. And somehow in our silence we were all complicit in his repressive aggression. Of course he had a right to ask her to be quieter; but was that the way to do it? Was there not another way in which the barely sublimated violence of threat would avoid being racheted up, but instead would be defused or transformed?

When the lights came up at the end of the film, the finger-wagger's face was still red with anger.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in London, riots and looting and fire. Sirens and police helicopters. Further afield, a young English guy has polar bear teeth removed from his skull. And a British soldier in Afghanistan is reported to have kept trophy fingers from the Taliban ...


I remembered an incident on a London bus a couple of years ago. Two kids in school uniform boarded a crowded bus - not enough seats, so one of them sat in the luggage area near the front of the bus, her legs swinging, humming along to her iPod. At the next stop the driver turned to her and told her she couldn't sit there, it wasn't allowed. She ignored him, and comically hummed a bit louder. He shouted, 'You can't sit there. Get off please. You'll have to stand'. No response. The driver insisted, telling her he wasn't going to continue unless she moved. She said, 'Oh just drive the bus will you, or dyou want me to do it'. 'Just get down! It's not allowed!'

Then a sudden explosion, a massive gear change that shifted everything. Her friend, who'd been watching this impasse develop, rushed along the aisle from his seat near the back, and started punching the perspex screen protecting the driver, shouting and trying to smash his way in. The driver flinched and reared away from the perspex, his back pressed against the door. A stationary bus full of frightened people staring at their hands and out the window. Hoping the perspex would hold, wishing it would all stop. The girl went to the front to stop her friend, pulled him away, calmed him down, sent him back to his seat; then she went back to sit in the luggage rack.

A woman in her 60s, at the front right next to the girl, suddenly stood up and very quietly, very lightly, said, 'Hey why don't you have my seat. Please. It's fine. You sit here'. The girl, wide-eyed at this response, said no I can't do that, thanks but I can't take your seat, you're ... Then the woman with a smile: 'No, it's fine, really, really, please sit here, I'll stand. Go on. I'd just like to go home'. She then hugged the girl, held her warmly for a few disarming moments, and then they exchanged smiles and places. The girl now puzzled, calmer, seated. The pressure of the situation released and dispersed.

The bus started up and we were off again.

The woman took up the position the girl had been in, holding the railing by the luggage rack - then after a few moments dropping her bum into it for a moment, swinging her legs, softly laughing at the logic of taking up this same position when there are no seats and your body wants to sit down. A brilliant, funny, human moment of recognition. Then she stood up again, and the journey continued. The same, but different, more awake.

For Peter Bradshaw's 5-star review of Malick's
The Tree of Life in the Guardian, see here.

For Jason Solomon's review in the
Observer, with a trailer for the film, see here.

For Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker, see

1 comment:

Lucinda said...

'The Transformative Power of Performance' came to mind when reading this post, particularly in relation to the stage, cinema event..

Fischer-Lichte, E (2008) The Transformative Power of Performance: Routledge London.