Sunday, April 01, 2012

Tree of Life, the movie

For the last several days I've been trying to find a way to put into words the feeling of continuity that weaves its way through the chaos of our individual existence. It was brought on by watching the devastation created by one of the owners of what was previously a lovely piece of land where heron nested in the trees and generations of squirrels trained new residents how to feed them their favorite treats. His reasoning for cutting down every single tree, some bigger around than many of us could embrace in one hug, was that he was building a solar house and needed to remove the trees so enough light would get through. He doesn't plan on living in it. He's building it with the intent of charging more than average to someone who is "one of them environmentalist types."

He really doesn't understand the contradiction, just as he doesn't understand how far apart he is from what nature truly is and means. He doesn't understand that those so-called environmentalist types have no interest in buying from someone who has so little respect for nature, so little understanding of what it even means to care about the environment, that he would cut down every single tree just to make his ugly devastation marketable.

In so many ways he is the poster boy for what happens when humans become disconnected from nature. And this is what I wanted to explain, the chaos that ensues when, in spite our continuity, in spite of our continual presence on this planet, we become disconnected from the part of us that is also part of the natural world. It's like trying to live without an essential organ like the heart or the brain.

Then last night I watched the movie "Tree of Life"  and something fell into place for me. I previously tried to explain the lack of compassion and shallowness of many of those on Wall Street, Congress, and heading up corporations as a lack of introspection. They are, for the most part,  mean, self-centered, materialistic excuses for human beings. They are what happens when your drugs of choice are alcohol and cocaine, drugs that numb feeling, drugs that allow you to be cruel and uncaring because you can always wipe them away with another dose. They are no different than the soldiers dosed on meth and Wagner so they could kill without conscience. One of the earliest uses of methamphetamine occurred during World War II. The German military dispensed Pervitin which was methamphetamine. It was freely administered to both tank crews and aircraft personnel.

Every generation has its drugs of choice and for mine it was LSD and marijuana, both which tend to make the imbiber more introspective. The inner landscape becomes inseparable from the outer landscape, and that is something we've lost, something that builder of the solar house has lost. It is also a theme I felt was covered in  "Tree of Life" in an especially beautiful and haunting way.

But in a clear example of how disconnected many have become from nature, I read that when the movie first aired, lots of people booed and jeered during the screening. It appears the plot didn't move fast enough for them and they were forced to endure multiple and astonishing scenes of beauty that weren't computer generated, but instead were created by so-called old fashioned  special effects techniques, like running liquid through objects and filming it.

For those of us who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, not only did the film remind us that no matter how awful our childhoods were for the most part, there were also moments when as children we lived in a sacred world untouched by the harshness of life. We played, laughed, felt, reacted to the world around us because we didn't have the filters of television, the internet, instant access to information. We had to dream and create and imagine.

In many ways the evolution of our consciousness had to create LSD and marijuana, just as the current generation and the one before it had to create drugs like Ecstasy as part of their mental development, and also as a backlash against the numbness and cruelty of those who escaped with hard and unforgiving drugs like cocaine and alcohol.

But that numbing and disconnect is also found in the prevalence of young heroin addicts and those who can't face the day without anti-depressants. We live in a disconnected world and everyone copes according to whether they want to retreat inward or blunt what lives within the recesses of those dark places.

In "The Tree of Life" the choice is between faith or nature, and while faith seems to drive most of the characters, it does so against the powerful continuity of nature. It is a movie that demands you sit patiently and wait for events to unfold, a task that in this world of instant gratification proved too much for those who jeered in the audience. Nature always takes its time. Faith demands instant answers, instant relief to specific situations. In nature we are part of the play. In faith, we are the directors of not only our own play, but also those of everyone else. Nature connects us, faith disconnects us.

Those of my generation were raised by men who saw the worst humanity can inflict upon itself. They saw things no human can see and still keep their humanity intact. Like the father in the movie, played by Brad Pitt, they wanted to toughen us up so we could survive the horror that life would throw at us. They wanted to protect us from it and at the same time, hide it from us. It's why we grew up wanting to know more, wanting to see the source of the contradictions. If anything, we children of war survivors knew there was more to the story and so we went looking through introspection and the kind of drugs that are conducive to looking inwards. We became a generation of seekers who knew there were answers and that they would explain the chaos inside, the angst we felt at knowing we were part of something and yet not knowing how to completely be part of it.

One thing we do learn as we get older is that even introspection reaches a point where it becomes selfish and indulgent. We can't all be monks on the mountain top perpetually seeking answers. At some point we have to stop, look around us and take our place in the world. As sometimes this came too late in life to accomplish much more than survival and perpetuating our own gene pool, the chaotic pendulum shifted to children coming from us that didn't want to look so deep inside, that didn't want to feel so much, that didn't really have the chance to live in the sacred world of childhood we may have been the last generation to enjoy.

 So the pendulum got stuck on the selfish swing, the arc failed to move beyond the gimme stage of existence and we ended up with the culture of greed that now permeates the planet. We ended up letting faith kill nature because it was just easier to swallow someone else's truth rather than discover the path to our own.

The backdrop of the movie is music as Brad Pitt's character gave up a career in music to become an engineer, the ultimate betrayal of the artistic self. His failing was in not understanding he didn't have to give up one for the other, that nature can weave through both truths and music is the pulsating universe both within and without us. Compassion and altruism can be as strong as steel and concrete if you grow them from within.

At the end of the movie I just wanted to sit for awhile and absorb what I had seen because while it was familiar, it was also like entering an astonishing exhibit of beautiful art whose technical mastery seemed to mock the easy solution of computer generated imagery we've come to expect when we say "special effects." In many ways, that to me is the true message of the movie, that we've moved so far beyond the simplicity of nature we've lost the meaning of it. Just like the man destroying nature to appeal to environmentalists.

The Tree of Life (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)


No comments: