As if they were toys

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of LifeThe Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

This was meant to be a single post blog. But maybe it is not a bad idea to add a few more comments on Malick’s cinema.
I am going to pick a scene from a film very dear to this director, The Night of the Hunter. Pearl makes a figure of a boy and a figure of a girl with dollar notes. Lays them on the ground. And then says the magical words: “You are John and you are Pearl.”

This is the best example I can find to explain the relation between Malick and O’Brien (or Kit, etc.), between cinema’s “eternal feminine” (must I say the final reference to Goethe in The Tree of Life was a delirious parody?) and Holly/Mother, or between the spectator, and young Jack. Like God creating the world, the child makes all the rules in this game. And from that magical moment all the adventures can be lived through the toys. In Malick’s case, the more absurd and delirious these adventures are, probably the better. (Although the success of such an experiment can only be judged by the director. Is he satisfied with his experiment’s results?)
It is hard to choose one of the many quotations incorporated in my review as the most important. This one is a strong candidate:

“But this act of destruction becomes, at the final point of development, an act of liberation: delirium escapes from necessity, casts off its heavy mantel of mystical servitude, and it is finally only then that, nude and lubricious, it plays with the universe and its laws as if they were toys” (Bataille).

Everything is a toy to Malick: the Big Bang, the dinosaurs, the Bible, literature, history, the actors. All these things are kept in his playroom. Some of these toys cost millions of dollars, like the famous actors, the historical recreations or the special effects that made possible the creation sequence of The Tree of Life. Some are inexpensive.

Compare with Mickey playing with the comets and waves “as if they were toys” in Fantasia, it seems an allusion to it: Steve as the godlike maestro of the film.

Malick says some thousand times during his films that he doesn’t care for anyone or anything but his “family”. That his films were not made for us, only for him. A Xanadu for his own delight. A world, a universe, where he is the beginning and the end of everything. God. The spectator is a diversion in this world, someone whom he likes to watch crossing his phantasy cinematic garden, building theories about it, falling in love with it. So he opens its gate:

“You who wander the world longing to see great and amazing marvels, come here, where there are terrifying faces, elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons.”
(Voi che pel mondo gite errando, vaghi di veder meraviglie alte et stupende, venite qua, dove son facce horrende, elefanti, leoni, orchi et draghi.)

Yes, I like the analogy with Bomarzo:

You who enter here put your mind to it part by part and tell me then if so many wonders were made as trickery or as art.
(Tu ch’entri qua con mente parte a parte et dimmi poi se tante meraviglie sien fatte per inganno o pur per arte.)

There is no dichotomy between inganno and arte in Malick. But if I had to choose one option I don’t need to tell you which one I would.

As we talked about Bataille and the children’s world in this post, it might be a good idea to finish with a reference to one of his books, Literature and Evil. I just leave you a link to Bataille himself.
Some of my readers just couldn’t stand The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick’s reference to Evil. I was not thinking in the devil with horns. Transgression, the sweet and childish taste of the forbidden, is what this director is searching. The You” he is referring himself to is more or less Bataille’s Evil. But Malick is not just flirting with it. That is the difference.