Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tree of Life

Life of my life, I search for you. My hope, my child.

Where were you? You let a boy die. Why should I be good, if you aren’t?

Why does he hurt us––our Father?

Help each other. Love everyone––every leaf––every ray of light. Forgive.

How do I get back––where they are?

Please, God, kill him. Let him die. Get him out of here.

What was it you showed me? I didn’t know how to name you then. But I see it was you. Always you were calling me.

I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory.

Father, Mother, always you wrestled inside me. Always you will.

The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.

I give him to you. I give you my son.
Terrence Malick has done something wonderful with The Tree of Life. Visually gorgeous and conceptually stretching, it is a feast of beauty that I will think about (and re-watch) for years to come. It’s a movie in which not much happens––including the creation of the universe and the development of life on earth. It shows that there are no such things as simpler times (usually thought of as behind us), just a different set of complications. A film about guilt and youth and love and pain and loss and joy and just... just everything. Just life.

I used to mock William Carlos Williams’ imagist poem:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong.

So much, so much depends. The meaning of everything, maybe. It all hangs on the subtlest of hinges.

Told on two levels, it includes the story of a family dealing with pain and failure, and the story of life and existence itself. (If you’re looking for a typical narrative arc, keep walking.) It elucidated a lesson taught to me by a wise younger brother of mine: he explained that meaning requires people, minds. An event (or a book, or a sculpture) don’t mean a thing unless they mean it to someone. Further, while the search for meaning seems to be inescapable––we’re hardwired for it––it is doomed to be frustrating until we realize an essential fact...

We don’t find meaning, we make it. It’s a business of craftsmanship, and we build it out of the mundane material of everyday life. We turn to religion, to art, to family, and sometimes to drink. (Incidentally, religious music is used brilliantly in several sequences dealing with the cosmos––appropriate since we can often only make sense of such vastness in terms of faith). Ultimately, the key to fitting it all together can only be found elsewhere:

For, behold, the kingdom of god is within you.

Friday, September 02, 2011

True Values

The following lines are from the chorus of Katy Perry's Last Friday Night:

Last Friday night
Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Last Friday night
Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage à trois

My reaction to those lyrics taught me something important about myself. You see, far more than its describing (and advocating) a life of drunken promiscuity, I am really bothered by the fact that it tries to rhyme "park" and "dark" with "trois."

Take-home message: Want to write songs about eating your young and dismembering hookers? Fine by me. Put it to a catchy tune and I'll probably listen to it. But your lyrics had damn well better scan, or you and I will be enemies forever!