The Shore of Eternity: Some More Notes

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

You cannot admire these last scenes from the viewpoint of Malick’s way of nature if you think they have (literally) their soundtrack’s tone. Although somehow romantic, this is hyper-kitsch delirium. A big, grotesque, masquerade. Think in the end of Fellini’s , definitely one of the references of this shore, maybe that will help. Better: imagine that this film was made by Kit in his “Private Studio”; or by Kubrick’s Clare Quilty.
As I see it, the shore of eternity is a synthetic image of The Tree of Life (this is, of all Malick’s films) not only its conclusion. That is why we see the baby’s door opening and Mother reaching the surface. Keep in mind this idea while watching these last scenes. They are just poetic variations of what is Malick’s cinema to himself.

“Can we not go home?” – asked Rebecca to Rolfe in The New World. “As soon as possible” – he answered. I could never say too many times that this film is Malick’s home. It is just unbelievable how the theme of the home/house was almost ignored by the reviews.
In the end of The New World, 17th century RL and Rebecca/Holly play hide and seek in the park. We never see them get together again in that film. They do in The Tree of Life, after RL’s “Find Me.” There is a fabulous shot of RL’s feet and next the road where the O’Briens live in Waco. Chastain is in green (as Rebecca was) and RL plays with her, runs in front of her. She holds him in her arms. Like I wrote in my review, this is the conclusion of The New World scene. In the shore of eternity Chastain is in green again and the encounter is repeated more dramatically.

It is just a parody. Malick’s River of Life is the son of cinema, especially of Hitchcock’s cinema, so he is Rebecca’s son/sun. And in The Tree of Life, cinema totally offers its waters/sun to Malick. In these scalding waters of fire, under this sun, he finds his home with cinema’s eternal feminine: lux perpetua luceat eis. That is why RL is associated with Wayne (The Searchers). He took Malick/the Architect (with Mother) home (“Keep us. Guide us. To the end of time.”), O’Briens’ home, transplanted to the white desert. Mother’s riefenstahlian ritual offering of the sun is just a kitsch grand finale enabling Malick to end in the sunflowers of delirium.

Let’s go home, Holly.

“I give him to you. I give you my son/sun.” Beyond doubt, RL is the sunflowers’ sun. And the sunflowers are an image of the ecstatic Malick. Mothers’ gift of the sun had already expressed itself in a more contained poetic variation in the beach. When Mother sees the Architect, she hugs him tenderly, caressing his back. Her touch is associated with the sun breaking the dark after an eclipse.
After this luminous revelation we find one strong reason to believe that Malick really had Bataille’s pineal eye in mind while imagining his Tree of Life. The Architect walks with Father, puts his hand on his shoulder and Father replicates the gesture (they are doubles). It is the climax of the scenes of the beach and probably one of the most powerful moments of Malick’s cinema: the Requiem is at its emotional peak when there is a superb contre-plongée of the tree – the Tree – searching the sun. Then we see RL uncovering the flashlight, uncovering himself. And then he appears just in front of the Architect, who hugs him and transports him in his arms. No, when I think about it, RL’s pine cone can’t stand for something else. Especially with sunflowers around.

What is left to say? Of course, we find in the shore of eternity the candle whose flame propitiated this reverie, associated with the waterfall of the River of Life.

Steve refreshing himself in the River of Life.

But let’s look to the mountains, to the sea and the beach.

“And the distance with its allure
Shone into the mountainscape.”
(Hölderlin, Heidelberg)

“We took off at sunset, on a line toward the mountains of Saskatchewan, for Kit a magical land beyond the reach of the law. The mountains, Kit’s beloved mountains, have a special place in the cinematic mythology.

With this director, it is first of all in that mythology we must think (of course, the magical aura of the mountains goes far beyond cinema and far way back the XX century), one made of a hundred films like High Sierra. “I could’ve held off an army if I could’ve gotten behind a rock in the mountains”, says Kit when he is arrested.

Walsh made a film called Saskatchewan. Probably Holly’s words should be deciphered as the mountains of Raoul Walsh...

The Badlands landscape is not a “natural” landscape, it is a cinematic one. The shore of eternity is a montage of several particularly evocative elements of that landscape.
Not much more to tell about the beach itself. The shore where cinema’s waves gently break, leaving Aphrodite’s foam, is capable of evoking an enormous number of films, but Death in Venice seems important to underline for the reasons already mentioned in The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.

Professor von Achenbach?

I have also already discussed Steve’s waves and seagulls, images of the imagination’s freedom and evil, Hitchcock’s evil. But I cannot help remembering you now one of the most extraordinary associations that Malick produced between Mother and the sea. In The New World, when Smith ends in the hands of the Indian women in great erotic ecstasy, Malick shows us the sails of the ship unfolding. This marvelous moment can be associated with a shot of Jack’s beautiful neighbor walking with her arms open wide (before he sneaks into her house) bathed in the sound of the waves. Like she was the boat itself. The greatest reserve of the imagination.

As my review concluded, the beach does not by chance resemble The Thin Red Line’s last shot (with the little “tree”): with The Tree of Life, Malick finally wan the war. What this war was for? Penn answered that question in Guadalcanal: Property, the whole fucking thing is about property.” Only one thing a man can do. Find something that’s his. Make an island for himself.” That is why he killed Holly’s dads in a big Oedipean parody. That is why he is a vampire. Like I wrote, the image of Penn’s shadow is a reference to Nosferatu. He wants to contaminate, to take possession of the land of cinema whose inhabitants get together by the sea.
The beach is designated as the “shore of eternity” in the script. Like to anything exclusively obtained from its reading, I didn’t grant this expression excessive importance, even more because it is variable in meaning and common. Nonetheless, I ask myself: would the idea of eternity have any importance to understand this beach? Well, at least in the measure that this film (this long film in five parts) is the story of itself, it is eternal. It is always making itself and beginning again.

The pavilion, with the windy curtains is an evocation of Days of Heaven. The curtains evoke Fellini’s and, qui ça, Visconti’s veils.

Remember that shot so close to the curtains of the pavilion?

But the Days of Heaven pavilion is something besides Fellini… What is the most famous garden pavilion in the history of cinema? Easy, it is Nicholas Ray’s pavilion, the one by the pool of the abandoned house of Rebel Without a Cause, the most poetic heterotopia that the American cinema left us. Our rebel can be such a sentimental guy: “Ill kiss your ass if he dont look like James Dean.” (Badlands)