My girl Holly and I have decided to kill ourselves

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

To Terry.

What I have been able to understand from Malick’s work tells me that there is no way of getting into its heart without being acquainted with the profound fascination that fire produces in human beings. The obvious way to get initiated in this problem is to read Bachelard, especially the two books I have mentioned in The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick, Psychoanalysis of Fire and The Flame of a Candle. They form the essential guide to this director. While studying his films, leave them in your night table. Malick must read them with far more devotion than the Bible.

Father’s fire, the fire of the gods. (Love the cat!)

“At the asylum of Saint-Ylie, the pyromanic with the most marked tendencies is a very obliging fellow. There is only one thing that he claims he does not know how to do, that is to light the stove.” (Bachelard, Psychoanalysis of Fire)

Terrence Malick spoke in public some years ago, in Rome. He showed and commented some clips from classic Italian movies. The written records are just hilarious. First, he chose a Totò. Why Malick likes Totò so much? Because “his face irradiates a special love, gladness, and happiness”. Isn’t that touching? The second choice was a Pietro Germi film. And what fascinates our director? “It’s the gladness, the innocent quality it exudes…its humor is a celebration of innocence, of the type we don’t really see anymore.” Nostalgic fellow, isn’t he? And a scene from Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik, what’s special about it? “Again, the warm sense of humor and the sheer innocence of the scene greatly appeal to me…I feel for the provincial girl, the innocent character who is expertly swindled by the fraudster who calls himself the white sheik.” Our director feels for the poor girl, sweet, just sweet. Alberto Sordi “was great, his face glowed with joy and innocence, just like Chaplin, Benigni, and Totò…he makes you become a child again.”
The last comment is far more interesting and less “innocent”. However, just tell me: could you find a better companion for the Saint-Ylie pyromanic?

But let’s go to the point. Today is a special day and I have decided this will be a special post. Well, the truth is that I had in my mind something  ambitious about Badlands, but I wasn’t able to finish it in time. So this one will be simple. It has more images than words. Just a previous warning: if you have pyromaniac tendencies, I won’t be responsible for what happens if you decide to scroll down.

Like you should know by now, Badlands is also the story of itself, every film Malick did is. After killing Hollys father, Kit changes a couple of jokes with Holly, ending in that “Oh... You want to call the police, that’s fine. Just won’t be so hot for me” that he says before going out to record his confession. That scene will become one day the most famous in the history of cinema. Malick was direct and clear: My girl Holly and I have decided to kill ourselves.

The most abyssal mise en abyme I know.

When Kit comes from his private studio, we immediately see him pouring gasoline over the interior of the house. His near sexual excitement is obvious. We can hear his fast breath while he kicks furiously what comes in his way. He burns Holly’s home in an ecstasy of hate and violent eroticism. He is on fire. This is all about that. Guattari, in an interview about Badlands (both with the expectable nonsenses, miscomprehensions and interesting comments), saw that Kit’s fire was both jouissance and desire for annihilation. “The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth …” (G. Bataille).

Malick, the burned boy.

This near ritual violence is the only way that Malick knows to feel alive, or so it seems. Yes, I think all this ends very near to some sort of Bataillean sacrifice.
Kit and Holly have an intimate encounter by the river and when it finishes Kit seems not at ease. Remember?

HOLLY: Is that all there is to it
KIT: Yeah.
(Her questions make him uncomfortable.)
HOLLY: Gosh, what was everybody talking about?
KIT: Don’t ask me.
HOLLY: Well. I’m glad it’s over... For a while I was afraid I might die
before it happened... Had a wreck, some deal like that.

Probably Holly’s last words are a joke with Splendor in the Grass, or some deal like that. And Kit as something of a Clyde (“Damn. I pissed all mine away shooting up bottles...”, he says at the gas station). Violence substitutes sex, or compensates the insatisfaction with sex.

KIT: You know what I think?
HOLLY: What?
KIT: That we should crunch our hands with this stone. That way we’d never forget what happened today.
HOLLY: But it would hurt.
KIT: Well, that’s the point, stupid.

One of the most disturbing moments of the film. P. Biskind wrote that Malick’s brother broke his own hands of frustration while studying guitar in Spain (and committed suicide shortly after). If he was right, I guess that Malick must see some kind of connection between this and his brother’s act. I don’t want to comment, so let’s forget that possible coincidence. What Kit is proposing is a violent self-aggression. Near automutilation. Once more, that seems to me just what Malick is consciously doing, something which is a form of defiance of everything he hates:

“Still, one can doubt that even the most furious of those who have ever torn and mutilated themselves amid screams and to the beat of a drum have abused this marvelous freedom to the same extent of Vincent Van Gogh, who carried his severed ear to the place that most offends polite society [a brothel]. It is admirable that in this way he both manifested a love that refused to take anything into account and in a way spat in the faces of all those who have accepted the elevated and official idea of life that is so well known.” (G. Bataille, Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh)

Malick’s genious was to transform his art in the automutilation ritual itself (I know this relation is also present in Bataille, but this is something quite different, both in degree and nature). But you won’t take anything from it. Malick hates just about everything and he assured himself that he would be spitting on the entire world, polite + unpolite. Bataille is an author very important to understand Malick, but not coincidental in many aspects. Take it as you want, but I don’t think it was just by chance that he chose to craft his first cinematic self on Charles Starkweathers, the man who confessed: “Sometimes I thought about murdering the whole human race. I never thought much about killing individuals.” It was not just the James Dean factor.

“He was provoking me when I popped him.” Malick gets excited with his parents’ fire and answers violently. He steals it. There isn’t place for admiration” with him.
Work is a metaphor with even clearer sexual connotations, (like with Bill sweating in the mill, in Days of Heaven). It seems to me that he is always portraying the spectator/director relation as submit or to rule, grace or nature. The others’ films are felt as provocations, acts of domination in which an erotic tension develops to explode in violence. In the farm it is what we see. The movement of the machines corresponds to the movement of Malick’s passion growing, heating to dementia.
As we talk about Days of Heaven. Not only Linda’s predictions announce the great fire. The windmill (electric generator; apparently inspired in Ryan’s Daughter) does it in an even more powerful way. Its (sexual) movement eventually rhymes with the jealous, hate and erotic torture of the Farmer. Wind is oxygen, what feeds and propagates fire, “the lust of murder like a wind stinging your eyes” (The Lady from Shanghai).
Run out of things to say for now. Just enjoy the show.

The Big 10 Perfect Picture Puzzle was going to be set on fire. The eye, at the summit of the skull, opening on the incandescent sun in order to contemplate it in a sinister solitude, is not a product of the understanding, but is instead an immediate existence; it opens and blinds itself like a conflagration, or like a fever that eats the being, or more exactly, the head. And thus it plays the role of a fire in a house”. (G. Bataille, The Pineal Eye)

Never an actor looked half as psychopathic as Sheen in this scene.

The Fabulous Steaks sign: a reference to the The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Days of Heaven. Chaplin (as Big Jim) in his steel mill? First I thought it was Kubrick (physical resemblance; presence of liquide metal in Clockwork Orange), but this does not make total sense. I can't say "I'll kiss your ass if this guy doesn't look like Charlie Chaplin", but acording to the script the character was even going to have a moustache at some point (“A pencil moustache lends a desired gentlemanliness to his appearance. He looks fallen on hard times, without ever having known any better - like Chaplin, an immigrant lost in the heartless city...”). It is a matter for future research. In any case, this guy messed with Malick and ended up bad. “You talkin' to me?”

Fire in the machinery of the farm. Things were getting hot.

With Hitchcock the situation got really wild. “Let it burn!”

The Thin Red Line. Malick’s sick sun.

The New World, the old habits... After this fire, Rebecca will meet Rolfe. Murnau’s (yes, I believe he is Murnau) territory had been conquered. Malick was ready to fulfill his destiny.

 The Tree of Life is the grand finale of the greatest fire in the history of cinema. Existence no longer resembles a neatly defined itinerary from one practical sign to another, but a sickly incandescence, a durable orgasm.” (George Bataille, The Pineal Eye)

RL, the River of Life, the river of fire: “Keep us. Guide us. To the end of time.”

The sun finally uncovering himself in The Tree of Life. One thing interesting to notice in The New World is the presence of the eagle:There is, in fact, no reason to separate Van Gogh’s ear or Gaston F.’s finger from Prometheus’s famous liver. If one accepts the interpretation that identifies the purveying eagle (the aetos Prometheus of the Greeks) with the god who stole fire from the wheel of the sun, then the tearing out of the liver presents a theme in conformity with the various legends of the "sacrifice of god." The roles are normally shared between the human form of a god and his animal avatar; sometimes the man sacrifices the animal, sometimes the animal sacrifices the man, but each time it is a case of automutilation because the animal and the man form a single being. The eagle-god who is confused with the sun by the ancients, the eagle who alone among all beings can contemplate while staring at "the sun in all its glory," the Icarian being who goes to seek the fire of the heavens is, however, nothing other than an automutilator, a Vincent Van Gogh”. (G. Bataille, Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh)

RL, the sunflowers’ sun. But in order to show the importance and the development of Van Gogh’s obsession, it is necessary to link suns with sunflowers, whose large disk haloed with short petals recalls the disk of the sun, at which it ceaselessly and fixedly stares throughout the day. This flower is also simply known (in French) by the name "the sun".” “...the sun in its glory is doubtless opposed to the faded sunflower, but no matter how dead it may be this sunflower is also a sun, and the sun is in some way deleterious and sick: it is sulfer colored [il a la couleur du soufre], the painter himself writes twice in French.” (G. Bataille, Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh)

“I imagined the eye at the summit of the skull like a horrible erupting volcano (...). Now the eye is without any doubt the symbol of the dazzling sun and the one I imagined at the summit of my skull was necessarily on fire, since it was doomed to the contemplation of the sun at the summit of its bursting [éclat]. The imagination of the ancients attributed to the eagle as solar bird the faculty of contemplating the sun face to face. In the same way an excessive interest in the simple representation of the pineal eye is necessarily interpreted as an irresistible desire to become a sun oneself (a blind sun or a blinding sun, it hardly matters). In the case of the eagle, as in the case of my own imagination, the act of directly looking is the equivalent of identification. ” (George Bataille, The Pineal Eye)

Happy birthday, Terry! (You can blow the candle.)