Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quotes to Illuminate The Tree of Life

NOTE:  In honor of the release of The Tree of Life on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, I am doing a series of posts on the film and Terrence Malick that will hopefully offer a couple new angles on it.  This first post is a collection of quotes that may shed light on the film, whether by offering a philosophical or religious viewpoint, or defending a certain aesthetic, or just by being thought-provoking.  Or perhaps they offer something only to me.  Read and think about these quotes as you wish.
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Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ---Genesis 2:8-9  [NIV]
The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have at all times overmastered other species in the great battle for life. . . As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.     ---Charles Darwin

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'I was criticized for portraying people who are brave, honest, loving, intelligent. That was called weak and sentimental. People who dismiss all real emotion as sentimentality are cowards. They’re afraid to commit themselves, and so they remain ‘cool’ for the rest of their lives, until they’re dead—then they’re really cool."
— Mark Helprin 

When people express what is most important to them, it often comes out in cliches. That doesn't make them laughable; it's something tender about them. As though in struggling to reach what's most personal about them they could only come up with what's most public.    --Terrence Malick, Sight and Sound interview, 1973
A director makes only one movie in his life.  Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again.       ---Jean Renoir

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My son, carefully observe the impulses of nature and grace, for these are opposed one to another, and work in so subtle a manner that even a spiritual, holy and enlightened man can hardly distinguish them. All men do in fact desire what is good, and in what they say and do pretend to some kind of goodness, so that many are deceived by their appearance of virtue.
Nature is crafty, and seduces many, snaring and deceiving them, and always works for her own ends. But Grace moves in simplicity, avoiding every appearance of evil. She makes no attempt to deceive, and does all things purely for love of God, in whom she rests as her final goal.
Nature is unwilling to be mortified, checked or overcome, obedient or willingly subject. Grace mortifies herself, resists sensuality, submits to control, seeks to be overcome. She does not aim at enjoying her own liberty, but loves to be under discipline ; and does not wish to lord it over anyone. Rather does she desire to live, abide and exist always under God's rule, and for His sake she is ever ready to submit it to all men.       ---Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  
--Romans 7:15 [NIV]

And He will say, 'This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.' And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before him... and we shall weep... and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!... and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even... she will understand.... Lord, Thy kingdom come!" And he [Marmeladov] sank down on the bench exhausted, and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.
---Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

I caught sight of your invisible nature, as it is known through your creatures.  But I had no strength to fix my gaze upon them.  In my weakness I recoiled and fell back into my old ways, carrying with me nothing but the memory of something that I loved and longed for, as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.   ---St. Augustine

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If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life - and only then will I be free to become myself.”  --Martin Heidegger
“To dwell is to garden.”  --Martin Heidegger
“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world's night utters the holy.” 
―Martin Heidegger

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[A]rt exists despite any logical conception.  Look, we often say that certain artist, writer, musician, or director is a philosopher.  But this is only a word.  An artist, in fact, is not really a philosopher.  And if we analyze his philosophical ideas, then it turns out that, in the first place, he is not original, and secondly, he obviously uses various well-known ideas or at least draws upon them.  For he is really not a philosopher, but rather a poet.  What constitutes a poet?  This is a person who has the psychology and imagination of a child. . . So far as the artist and the work of art reveal the world and force us either to accept and believe in it or else reject it, then the only thing we can speak about is the religious impression a true work of art makes on a person.  For it affects the soul of a person and a person’s spiritual foundation.  --Andrei Tarkovsky
"Juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema." - Andrei Tarkovsky
Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant. But when it's dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death's companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.”  --Andrei Tarkovsky

"Now why should the cinema follow the forms of theater and painting rather than the methodology of language, which allows wholly new concepts of ideas to arise from the combination of two concrete denotations of two concrete objects?"
---Sergei Eisenstein
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Talk to me about the truth of religion, and I’ll listen gladly.  Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively.  But don’t come talking to me of the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.
Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions “on the further shore,” pictured in entirely earthly terms.  But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs.  There’s not a word of it in the Bible.  And it rings false.  We know it couldn’t be like that.  The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. . . The happy past restored.
And that, just that, is what I cry out for, with mad, midnight endearments and entreaties spoken into the empty air.  ---C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“Because she is in God’s hands.”  But if so, she was in God’s hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here.  Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body?  ---C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives . . .a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.
To see, in some measure, like God.  His love and His knowledge are not distinct from one another, nor from Him.  We could almost say he sees because He loves, and therefore loves although He sees.  ---C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering. 
---St. Augustine

ANDRE: Have you read Martin Buber's book On Hasidism?
ANDRE: Oh, well here's a view of life! I mean, he talks about the belief of the Hasidic Jews that there are spirits chained in everything: There are spirits chained in you, there are spirits chained in me. Well! There are spirits chained in this table! And that prayer is the action of liberating these enchained embryo-like spirits, and that every action of ours in life, whether it's doing business or making love, or having dinner together, whatever, that every action of ours should be a prayer, a sacrament in the world.
Now, do you think we're living like that? Why do you think we're not living like that? I think it's because if we allowed ourselves to see what we do every day we might just find it too nauseating.
----My Dinner With Andre

And at last, slowly, afraid he wound find nothing, Douglas opened one eye.
  And everything, absolutely everything, was there.
The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.
And he knew what it was that had leaped upon him to stay and would not run away now.
I’m alive, he thought. . . .
The grass whispered under his body.  He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes.  The wind sighed over his shelled ears.   . . .His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire.  Insects shocked the air with electric clearness.  Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. . . The million pores on his body opened. . . 
“Tom!” Then quieter.  “Tom . . . does everyone in the world . . . know he’s alive?”
“Sure.  Heck, yes!”. . .
“I hope they do,” whispered Douglas.  “Oh, I sure hope they know.”
---Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

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The Deva then caused himself to appear as a sick man; struggling for life, he stood by the wayside, his body swollen and disfigured, sighing with deep-drawn groans, his hands and knees contracted and sore with disease, his tears flowing as he piteously muttered (his petition). 

The prince asked his charioteer, 'What sort of man, again, is this?'
Replying he said, 'This is a sick man. The four elements all confused and disordered, worn and feeble, with no remaining strength, bent down with weakness, looking to his fellow-men for help.'
The prince hearing the words thus spoken, immediately became sad and depressed in heart, and asked, 'Is this the only man afflicted thus, or are others liable to the same (calamity)?'                     ---The Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King, A Life of the Buddha

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ---Genesis 3:1-5 [NIV]

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then. . . .I contradict myself;
I am large. . . .I contain multitudes.
--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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1Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:

2“Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
3Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels [or Hebrew: the sons of God] shouted for joy?
. . .
12“Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
18Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
19“What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?

---Job 38:1-7, 12-20 [NIV]

1 comment:

  1. Stephen,

    Very nice post. It's a film that invites both introspection and stargazing. I'll be looking through the links you collated in one of your other posts too. I'm very much looking forward to TO THE WONDER, which will be out next month.