Saturday, March 29, 2014
Good Things Come
It took almost 10 years, but Terrence Malick has finally made another film I love; one that far exceeds the reaches of THE NEW WORLD. In all truth, TO THE WONDER is now my favorite. It is a story of romantic love as essential and necessary as the Gospel. Is it really so long to wait 8 or 9 years for a great film? It is, but that is because I feel as though I'd been waiting forever. Waiting not just for this film, but also for a sense of personal contentment and total freedom. Waiting for the great Malick film to soar above the promises of his greatness. And what is TO THE WONDER about? It's actually about waiting....(wait for it) ...for a sense of personal happiness and true freedom.
Malick's movie is the best film I never saw last year.
I am in love.
I am not in love in actual life; I live muted, with a betrayed, abandoned heart. But in my filmgoing life, my virtual life that I live in lieu of an actualized life, I have just been shown the hope of the Promise's arrival.
I became aware of Malick, and the myth of his greatness, around the time that I became aware that movies and the love of them would be my life. I was a pre teenager. I made a list, several hundred items long, of all the movies I would learn about that were must -sees to help advance me on my road of film appreciation. BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN were early entries. The first one I saw was BADLANDS. I figured I would love it. I had marked up the Washington Post TV Week schedule, tracking VHS tapings and real time views of sought after movies. I still recall my excitement when I got to see BADLANDS, on an evening when the upstairs TV was free, on a local Baltimore station. It was during my 8th or 9th grade. Of course the film was edited for television, but I can recall its impact. Its cynicism, its style, and the way it used American landscape as a sort of visual storytelling shorthand; it didn't move me, it did not wow me, but i mentally checked these attributes as movie watching elements I should continue to note. Five or so years later, upon moving to NYC, i saw it screen on 35. I still think it's a strong film, but I also recognize the gap between the expectation i had awaited and the final moment of watching. As cinephiles the first half of our lives are marked waiting to see certain films. This is probably less common now, post internet. In my preteens and teens it was Malick, Truffaut, Warhol, Godard, Franco, Resnais, Ferrara and Ashby. In my twenties it was Rivette, Ruiz, Zulawski and a zillion other films not defined by their filmmakers; my scope widened considerably. It goes further than waiting for certain films. Every cinephile has their golden chalice; their OUT 1 print or LAST MOVIE or HARDLY WORKING...I believe, that as cinephiles, we are often people looking to movies to fulfill a promise that we do not expect fulfilled within our own lives.
When I finally saw DAYS OF HEAVEN, it was a rental situation in high school. I was horribly disappointed. When I got to NYU it was a personal favorite of my film school boyfriend, so we went to see a print screen at Film Forum. My viewing was more substantial this time around, but I still felt let down. I went back to Film Forum to see it screen yet again in the early -mid aughts, still disappointed. I've always liked BADLANDS more, but I guess I don't love either of them. The eventual theatrical opening of THE THIN RED LINE was a major event. I was barely alive that year, but all of my film school friends were obsessed with it. I managed to see it opening day in my temporary new town of Washington, D.C. I believe I saw it at the Uptown (D.C.'s Ziegfeld), so that made everything better. This Malick was more of a stunner to me. It was more difficult to nail down and explain. It was the first Malick I saw that was closer to the type of film I was usually drawn to. It demanded repeated viewings and was experimenting with something new.
I loved THE NEW WORLD. It was a top personal life experience of my year in 2005.
The mythic great Malick film you wait for had finally arrived: poetic storytelling and technique finally married with the content of the story..about newness and narrative of the formation of a physical place. I never connected with it emotionally, but with this film Malick had finally lived up to hype.
I waited several more years to come across the next promised land...and then came TREE OF LIFE. I can only say that this is the Malick film I find the least connection and interest in. I can liken the experience to that of watching a magazine editorial come to life.
So I dicked around a while before sitting down for TO THE WONDER. My god. Terrence Malick, I'm almost 40, where have you been all my moviegoing life? I felt that note being struck; the coexistence of innovative technique, visual beauty, and FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY- a spiritual center I could place myself in. The film uses shortcuts, formerly less fully realized in earlier pictures like TREE, to economize the storytelling in a chiefly visual manner. We are watching a love story but one that happens in leaps and bounds, all in the opening moments. We understand, even without the subtitles translating the French.
Wes Anderson gets criticized for a very similar idea. I think Anderson explores alternative ways to do exactly what filmmakers like Walter Hill and Michael Mann do so well (THE DRIVER, THIEF, MIAMI VICE...) It is a way of streamlining the way we are told a story. I realize now that he has been trying to do this, with varying measures of success, in his last few films, but without being fully realized until now. The film opens with the
arrival of a lifetime of want and of not having. Do I know anything about these characters backgrounds or if they'd ever had love before? No. I say this because what I am shown and what I experience in this opening is ..the end. A woman has reached her penultimate happiness. She spins through life. Everything is beautiful, everything and everyone is connected. She is in love. She is radiant and she beams outwards to others.
It is just about halfway through the film when she is, in some ways, replaced and cast aside. She stops spinning through the frames. Her voiceover tells us she is lost, and she is walking around alone, not knowing where go but to go home and collapse.
She tries to kill herself. She returns to him. Her voiceover remarks that it is only the Weak who never take a stand (by ending a relationship i presume.) Her world turns dark and her spirit is in crisis.
I am used to waiting for things that never come. At this point in my life I'm pretty much at peace with the idea that the heartbreak and rejection from my latest relationship can only lead to my suicide or to a loveless life of utter misery.
It took 35 years of being alone, often hopeless, but foolishly hopeful for me to find true love. I was to lose that love forever in just less than three years.
I first heard about Terrence Malick when I was approximately twelve years old. I saw my first Malick film when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I saw TO THE WONDER tonight and I am currently about 38 years old. 24 years is less than three decades. Not so unreasonable. How many 24s do I have left? Do I remain resigned to life and to missing the possibilities I do not believe will ever cross my path? Do I confuse hope with the impact of the truth of how Malick depicts falling in love in TO THE WONDER? How truthful Malick can be! How right he is when he shows how love is the spirit, it is the 'wonder' in life, the thing missing that we need..the answers we seek, the prayer, the meaning, the everything...
How could her lover not see how earth and soul shattering the withdrawal of his romantic love would be? Her love for him was devotional, religious, and eternal.
It sounds pious to say for me, someone who does not like religion, and I know there is no God, but when the Priest showed up I could see that this is the OTHER side of falling in love onscreen. The love she experienced was Holy. Without that miracle she is equivalent spiritually to the junkie, the criminal and the laborer who need Bardem's Priest. She is alive but she is an empty shell; nothing is inside of her. She is "in between"; she is without love. It is the wait...IT IS THE WAIT that is the other storyline. The one that crisscrosses as the French bride falls in and out of her rapture. She is back in Paris. She is alone on the subway. She no longer dances to transport herself from place to place. She walks with her head down, and she stares unhappily on the Metro.
It is the wait for the new great drug, for the new 12 step fellowship to save and rebuild your spirit, that one person in the world who finally came along who would become your best friend and one true love and then leave you forever. The wait for that next great film to give you life as a cinephile.
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