I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Tree of Life - not a movie, an experience to savour

For the first time ever I actually stopped eating my popcorn partway through a movie. Let me explain the significance... In my first year of university as a film student, I quickly realized that watching a movie for fun and watching a movie for school could be completely different experiences, but I had a hard time disconnecting my student self. My friends made it abundantly clear that they did not appreciate an intense and intricate analysis of whatever movie we were watching. Soon enough, I learned that eating popcorn during a movie was a way to quiet the film student, because when watching movies for analysis, in class, there was no popcorn - we were too busy taking notes for that (yes, I can still kind of write in the dark). So popcorn became this signal for my brain to let go and fall into that "suspension of disbelief" state that allows one to simply experience and enjoy the movie.

But somehow, this movie engaged me at a different level, throwing me for a loop when it took a path so different from any I've ever experienced, and I got so lost in it, that there was no need for an external trigger to disconnect. And yet, my analytic side was just as active, watching how the editing worked with the music, and just enjoying the lighting and the skill it took to evoke such feeling in me.

Tree of life is not a movie for everyone - it's really not a movie at all, but a film (pronounced in two syllables: fil-uhm, please). It is not a story. There is little plot, and that is even secondary. But what an experience.

I stopped eating when the movie shifted from following scraps of a family's life to visually telling the story of the universe. When we got lost in the crab nebula and then watched the Earth cool.

The film tells the huge story of the universe, and then focuses in on the details of a short, significant time in a boys' life. But it's not about the story of the boy we follow. It is the story of how life happens. How beauty surrounds us, how we turn away from it, how we grow, how we carry our pasts with us, and how we carry the history of the world in us. It really is a huge film. A work of art. Big and bold.

If you see it, don't go in expecting a movie, but expect to walk into an experience that combines the art films of the 60's with a history museum, and a Norman Rockwell painting. It's not supposed make sense, because life doesn't make sense. But if you go see it, with your mind open to a new kind of experience, then maybe you will walk out of the theater as my mom and I did, in awe, and more deeply connected to whatever it is you connect to.

It starts, after a stunning opening, with a voice over that sets the scene for all the dichotomy to come - the idea that life can be lived either in a state of grace, or a state of nature. The images that follow throughout - of architecture, and forests, of galaxies and factories, of abandoned shacks and tended gardens - they were for me such a strong echo of the struggle with which humanity faces the world; our vain attempts to control nature, to separate ourselves from the very thing which sustains us. But in the end, I felt the two combine, in those final scenes full of light and music, it managed to unite within the paradox that grace is part of nature.

I was incredibly moved by the loving way in which each adult character is treated at the moment of realization that at some point or another life and time have passed, somehow the wonder has gone, and at their attempts to re-embrace the wonder. They echo the old saying that life is what happens while you're waiting for life to happen, and I wish I could describe the way in which the entire film expresses this sense of urgency and patience all at the same time.

For the last little while, I've been wanting to do more, to heal faster, to get back to my life. And tonight, I can honestly say that I'm not feeling that. I saw the sky, and there was no Big Mother watching me. I saw the trees, and I sat outside in my garden for a little while when I got home, until the urge to write these words got too big. Life is big, and we are but a teensy weensy little part of it, and yet it's so easy to focus on all the little things, that the big get left out somehow. I can only hope that this feeling stays with me, and that I am able to find a way to keep connected to it.


  1. The tree of life is always in bloom somewhere if we only know where to look.
    ~~~Havelock Ellis~~~

    If trees barked like dogs and flowers hooted like owls, their grace and elegance would be noticed by millions who now pass by unseeing.
    ~~~Alexander A. Steinbach~~~

  2. Cu - there's a reason I had the tree of life carved into my back... :)

  3. I re-read your piece about the movie'Tree of Life' because I am going to watch it tonight and I remembered it being amazingly written! You are the best movie critique, now let's see if the movie will resonate with me as feel. Will let you know!