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Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick and The Paintings of Diane Burko

Diane Burko

Diane Burko - Volcano Series: 2001 by Discover Channel: Volcano Vacations
from Diane Burko on Vimeo.

Diane Burko
Diane and I go back a long time, since she was an MFA student at Penn. She has spent her entire career doing landscape paintings, very unusual ones. Flying over glaciers, mountains and volcanoes she has recorded our planet in a way no one else has. As it has turned out she has become a witness to the destruction of what are some of the most beautiful inaccessible landscapes on earth. The world has been willing her in this journey as it was not her intention that she would ever be documenting a lost world. We can only be grateful to her for doing this.

Diane Burko
Her images are very like those in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. So many moving in time images resonating with Burko's paintings. The film is a wonder to see as are Burko's paintings. In the film I wept in surprise for seemingly no reason at all, just the sheer beauty of moving paintings, abstract, expressionistic, and realistic all at the same time before my eyes. The music is classical, haunting and reaches somewhere you haven't been in a long time. The relief in seeing a film where the music doesn't tell you how you are supposed to be feeling. Music that is just there, simply there.

Spencer Tunick Greenpeace Installation
And then I come to the Installations of Spencer Tunick with all his naked bodies. And his Greenpeace Installation coupled with Burko's glacier paintings. Malick's The Tree of Life is not easily classified so why bother. It is an experience like a Robert Wilson opera. You are aware that you can feel yourself breathe while watching it.

Diane Burko

Diane Burko

Review: The Tree of Life Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life fulfills the promise that the technology of film reproduction promised. It cannot be discussed within the dominant discourse of film criticism.  It is a Foucaudian cut in the history of film. This film is a miracle. Time has slowed for us in this film. We inhabit our own lost time or a time we never knew. The experience is the same as reading In Search of Lost Time by Proust.

The dialectic rhetoric does not apply to it. When reviewers discuss it in words that portray it as revered, loved, adored, a prayer, a revelation contrasted with boring, hated, intolerable, and walk-outs, their flat earth thinking is displayed. When they go on to wade into the interpretive psychological swamp of Oedipal relations between the boy and his father, they are done for. 


The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick's signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
It sounds good doesn't it? Freud himself lamented against this tendency, in his time, in his essay Wild Analysis. What is revealed is a complete ignorance of Foucault's The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language a long detailed analysis against the futility of psychological, historical and scientific interpretation, Jean Baudrillard's dismantling of it, and Susan Sontag's great essay Against Interpretation shredding it, as only she can.  This is the reason contemporary reviewers are so inept, so complained about, so uninformed, etc etc etc. And also why they are taken to task, disagreed with, praised, and all the other aspects of the dialectics. 

We are no longer in liner time. There is no longer any orderly progression which depends on linear time. We are moving into simulation. When simulation becomes total, we will be in Virtual Reality, which is irreversible. The last World War is being fought before our eyes and ears. It is the war of Speed described by Virilio.

Baudrillard in Fatal Strategies suggests opposing speed with extreme slowness. And Tree of Life is obeying his dictum. We become immersed in a world of slowness. A world of lost time now. A time when there was contemplation, when connections could be made, when cause and effect linkages were perceived, when meaning existed independent of media manipulation, when the dialectic ruled. Values, aesthetics, rules, ritual, the law, were all a part of human behavior in Western societies. We see the beginnings of disintegration in this film. The father cannot live in a post World War II with his values intact and neither can his son in his. This has little to do with Oedipal conflict.

Walter Benjamin's seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Illuminations pp 217-251) warns us what to expect. Malick has taken notice. He doesn't disappoint.

I saw it in Springfield Missouri at the independent film theatre The Moxie. I am grateful for their presence here in the Ozarks. What was astonishing was the faces of the audience as the lights went on at the end. Every face was bathed in beauty, all 21st century angst removed as if by magic. I saw traces of an unhoped for joy on them.