The fake cosmos, part 2

"The Three of Life"
written/directed by Terrence Malick

Before I continue the June "
Melancholia" and "The Three of Life" post let me make one thing clear: I consider Terrence Malick a cinematic genius. What follows is not so much about his stylistic choices as about the current direction in visualizing the cosmos.

The opening quote of “The Three of Life”: "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" telegraphs the upcoming film and at the same time sentences it to the unavoidable failure.

The answer to the Book of Job question is only one: “Dear God, thank you for singling me out and addressing me personally. As you know, I was not there. I have no clue how it looked like, what if felt like, why was it happening or even how to imagine it since the event you are referring to totally transcends my insignificant self, my ability to imagine, comprehend or visualize.” “ Yet, I will try, continues Terrence Malick (in making the film), I will try to sing a song of our human yearning to touch the divine, to see that which is impossible to see since we couldn’t have been there.” Hats off for this noble attempt.

Yet, 43 years after the Space Odyssey, after Kubrick, Tarkowsky, Lucas and NASA defined the way we envision the cosmos certain stylistic directions seem used up, not as fresh as they were decades ago. (The more splendid NASA photos are the more they reveal limitations in showing the totality of events they point to.)

We accept the (unavoidable) fakery of a “realistic” film language describing a typical psychological scene be it in a Mallick or a von Trier movie because a) we’ve been conditioned that it is the way things are (they are not!) and b) because we bring into the perception of such a scene a huge amount of our own references. We augment what we see on screen with our own personal experiences or cultural annotations beaten into us by education and culture. Things get more muddy when talking about the beginning of the world. The thin layer of existing iconography is clearly bogus, it does not represent the reality of things. We don’t have enough references to confirm or at least partially justify the reality of the existing canon of the cosmic imagery. How to make it more “real” for us? Whoever figures it out will be a new Leonardo.

For now however the stylistic path "
Melancholia" and "The Three of Life" chose aims for the absolute visual truth in rendering the non-renderable. In this context, starting with the quotation from God himself only begs to close with a quote from the Lady Gaga Madison Square Garden HBO special in which the diva yells:

do you know what’s the second thing after money I hate the most?.... the truth!... the absolute truth!.. instead give me a bucket of bullshit, anytime!”

1 comment:

  1. My thoughts, exactly. THE TREE OF LIFE is stunning in some parts, but falls awfully flat in the "cosmic" section. It's almost like Malick was unaware of how banalized National Geographic/NASA imagery became. Reminded me of Bush, Sr. and his famous wonderment when he encountered a modern cash register for the first time and expressed wonder at the miracle of the bar code (some 15 years after it became commonplace in the US).