“Yes! it was indeed a remarkable undertaking, to establish my Elysium with a pack of thieves!” (Hyperion, quoted in The Last Dive)
Is Paradise a garden? Why not a film? Why not cinema itself?
The garden is one of the dearest and most pervasive metaphors of this experiment. Everyone will agree that this director consciously plays with it since days long gone.
|The gates remember us that the paradise has walled boundaries. There is an inside and an outside the garden. Its guardians can let us come in and expel as they please.|
It is akin to the themes of the Fall and the New World, which we will barely touch in the present post. This is nothing but the pretext to join simple comments made about the garden and to share some allusions related to the subject.
|Just some gates appropriate enough to be remembered: Kubrick, Welles, Tourneur, Eisenstein, Wilder and Hitchcock, whose gate we magically cross.|
The garden carries an heavy cultural burden. Paradise is a garden (with a tree and a river of life). A closed garden. The first home of the first couple. From its delights they where expelled. Outside its gates, they were condemned to stay.
Gardens made by human hands carry often the mark of exclusion (see the pleasure garden of Metropolis). They define social barriers. Like with the phenomenon of garden cities in the past century, a kind of anti-urban urbanism. Malick's work begins in the suburban gardens of Eden, a modest American middleclass (of English tradition) residential area where Kit is a bad weed, although the paradisiacal atmosphere of the neighborhood is more accentuated in The Tree of Life. In To the Wonder, the garden is a decayed Eden.
|Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole. This popular doubtful taste painter also left us a River of Life (The Voyage of Life). Malick must know it, guess that at some degree there is parody with its pious spirit.|
Private gardens develop around a residence or have an autonomous existence. Today, the first type is more common. But in the past, when the home was not “private” yet, it was often a place apart from curious eyes. Enclosed, even secret. A locus amoenus, a place for sensuality, love games, or to meditate, to rest far from the dirt, noise, smell of the cities of the past (and present).
Also apart from everyday life is the garden of the dead. In fact, the cemeteries are often arranged as so.
|The medieval garden of love: Chaucer by Pasolini and the Roman de la rose. See the garden erotically charged in another cultural context in Arabian Nights. It is true, we find it at times in the center of the home, a small idealization of nature itself. From the Roman period to the Middle Ages (the cloister, from claustrum, enclosure; with paradisiacal insinuation) and afterwards.|
|Had to think for a while why the building ending in the tempietto interested the director: Fantasia, once again, the episode with the festival in honor of Bacchus/Dionysus (the relation between The Tree of Life and Fantasia is very intimate; I personally see a parallel between the final exaltation of the eternal feminine by Malick and the Ave Maria closing Fantasia). These structures where often erected in the parks of aristocratic and royal residences. In The Tree of Life, the city was transfigured by the arts of the imagination in the garden of delights and the architect was in paradise for a moment, like the couple of Sunrise (in the top of the post).|
A place for the dolce vita, the garden/park is privileged for reveries, architectural jokes, tricks and plays, amusements to escape ennui, sol per sfogare il core, like Bomarzo confesses to the visitors. An heterotopia par excellence.
|The film which emphasizes more the gate as an element of the garden is (as much as I know or remember) a marvelous 1958 work by Varda, Du côté de la côte: “Paradise: it was a beach and a pine cone. But the nostalgia for Eden is a garden. Not more the Côte d'Azur: it is a transplanted garden, an idea of a flower garden, lawned, columned, forgetting the nearby sea, the sweet place is a retreait, the water-lily, a sigh, and they are fake Eves, fake Adams, fake Cupids, misleading Venuses, fake caves anf fake nymphs. If these dreams are collective, gardens are not public. Fake Eden is not for us any more than Eden.” « Le Paradis, c'était une plage et une pomme de pin. Mais la nostalgie de l'Eden c'est un jardin. Ce n'est plus la Côte d'Azur, c'est un jardin transplanté c'est une idée de jardin à fleurs, à pelouse, à colonne, oubliant la mer toute proche, la pièce douce est un retrait, le nénufar, un soupir qui s'étale, et ce sont de fausses Eves, de faux Adams, de faux Amours, de trompeuses Vénus, de fausses grottes et de fausses nymphes. Si ces rêveries sont collectives, les jardins ne sont pas publics. Le faux Eden n'est pas pour nous non plus que l'Eden. » She is right, no? The combination of paradisiacal themes and images, including the island (“The Eden exists. It is an island.”; « L'Eden existe. C'est une île. ») and the sun, makes us guess an allusion to the French director.|
|This possibility is reinforced by the pine cone with which RL plays. Like it was written, Malick seems to combine every allusion to literature with a cinematic one. “Everything is cinema” is, it seems at this stage, a rule without exception. This is valid for all said to allude to Bataille. It does so, but it must also contain the memory of film. At this stage I would invite you to combine the Dionysian imagery (the thyrsus; RL as a baby Dionysus) and Bataille's pineal eye with Varda's paradise.|
With strange marvels to impress your guests, to make them laugh, or to laugh at their expense, like hidden water jets (or hidden ways of nature...). The kind of thing that tends to grow infinitely in extension and sophistication, to consume the creator/owner, to become the labyrinth of his mind. To lose himself alone forever. Avec son seul désir.
|“It seemed, at first, impossible to get lost there. At first. Along the rectilinear pathways, between the statues with their fixed gestures and the granite paving-stones, where you were now already in the process of getting lost, for ever, in the quiet night, alone with me.” (« Il semblait au premier abord impossible de s’y perdre. Au premier abord. Le long des allées rectilignes, entre les statues aux gestes figées et les dalles de granit où vous étiez, maintenant, déjà, en train de vous perdre pour toujours dans la nuit tranquille, seule avec moi. », L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961)|