Wind Chimes: Ah…those feet, those feet...

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

Let’s lower the subject for a while, ok? Let’s lower it as much as possible. Let’s talk about feet. This guy wrote something about feet and Malick. As you imagine, this post will be different. We only deal with the way of nature around here. Plus de miséricorde.

Certainly you were as spelled as I by those wind chimes at Mrs. Kimball’s door. Like sirens calling Jack to forbidden territories.

Someone suggested that Zabriskie Point was the probable inspiration of Mrs. Kimball’s chimes. As you know, Antonioni was always mentioned as one of Malick’s masters. Although Malick seems to like his films, through “Nature” the similarities between him and the Italian director are superficial.

Meet Mrs. Antonioni, melancholically walking around her empty house while we hear the sprinkler, a reference to L’eclisse (to a moment of erotic tension in the film). The second encounter between Kit and Holly, that one during which he asks her if she wants to “go for a ride”, has a veiled reference to this film, to the beautiful scene with Piero talking to Vittoria at the window: “PIERO: What are you writing? VITTORIA: I’m translating some Spanish. PIERO: How do you say "I want to come up" in Spanish? VITTORIA: You say, "You can’t." Tough language, isn’t it?” (“PIERO: Cosa stavi scrivendo? VITTORIA: Traduco un po’ di roba dallo spagnolo. PIERO: Ah. E come se dice in spagnolo che vorrei salire da te? VITTORIA: Se dice que non puoi. Brutta lingua lo spagnolo, eh?”); “KIT: Whatcha doing? HOLLY: Spanish. KIT: How do you say "Quit my Job" in Spanish? HOLLY: Something mi trabajo.” (Badlands)

But that is not what I want to discuss here. So, wind chimes and cinema.

Body Heat comes immediately to my mind. There is no doubt that Jack’s temperature increased some degrees in that house. But although there is no reason for Malick to dislike Kasdan’s neo-noir atmosphere, I do not believe that Body Heat was an inspiration. And the similitude with the Zabriskie Point situation is not enough to satisfy me (even if that final explosion of the house could find some meaning in The Tree).

There are, of course, several films with wind chimes, but as Mrs. Kimball is ostensibly Jack’s mother substitute, I will suggest it is probably an allusion to Buñuel. Now, you see, this is going to get really low.

I confess that I needed some time to understand why Mrs. Kimball was filmed like this. So simple, so obvious: Psycho. Mrs. Kimball is a composite of Hitchcock and Buñuel. Well, and maybe more. Talking with Jack about his rich neighbour, O’Brien tells his son that Kimball “inherited”...

One of the strongest erotic images of The Tree of Life is Mrs. Kimball refreshing her feet in the garden hose. Buñuel, the obsessive feet lover, would be delighted with this fetishist detail. The shot is evoked just before Jack’s break into the Kimballs’, when the boy gazes at Mrs. Antonioni (I was not able to identify her name), who looks just like Chastain. She is touching the sprinkler with her feet while the dress gets wet, denouncing the underwear. Eroticism in The Tree of Life is made of these subtle voyeuristic details, of the ambiguous caresses of Mrs. O’Brien to Jack, or of moments like that shot where Malick lets you peep through Chastain’s sleeve (“Come here.”).

Why is Mrs. Kimball seen in the clothes line for the first time? Et Malick créa… la femme? Just the kind of joke this guy loves.

But let’s concentrate on feet. Malick’s crush on feet and legs is not new. In Days of Heaven, Bill washes Abby’s legs and feet in the river in a very sensuous way. And there is a shot of Abby taking out her stockings of clear Buñuelian taste. Days of Heaven is Malick’s film where sexual desire is more explicit and violent. The Farmer even ties up Abby when he goes looking for Bill. An eccentric reaction, even considering that he was a furious cheated husband, no? I ask myself if good old Luis was not the inspiration for that too.

We find more of this feet stuff in the script: “She laughs and kisses RL’s feet. JACK: How can you do that? It’s disgusting. MOTHER: Well, I’m sorry. His feet were cold. Jack: Yeah, but you don’t kiss them!” 

Los Olvidados, Buñuel’s Mexican masterpiece, has an unforgettable dream scene with chimes sounding obsessively along with the wind and the music. I do not wish to go deep into Buñuel, but Pedro’s dream has a mixture of incestuous desire and guilt which makes the association with The Tree of Life reasonable, makes it probable that Malick was really alluding to this film and director. Mother – Pedro’s mother – even washes her feet in a basin in that film. Just coincidences? (Probably Malick tried to give a Buñuelian taste to Mrs. Antonioni and an Antonionian touch to Mrs. Buñuel&Hitchcock, just to underline the nature of Waco, the Great Mother.)

Jaibo: “It must be good to have a mother.”

Of course, the chimes can be just one more Hitchcockian joke, the chimes of the dead. 

And, do not forget: when Penn arrives to the shore of eternity, he kisses the angel’s feet, or seems that he is going to. Mmmmm… Mother is here, but is she a Buñuelian angel? Maybe.

The Young One washing her feet on a stream.
Él: Legs and feet are a constant in Buñuel’s films. Francisco is watching the paschal ritual. His eyes will end in Gloria’s feet. The part of BWV 565 heard in the Tree is the same heard in El’s church (second meeting). Just for the record… (If this was intentional, should we think in Francisco’s words at the tower?: “El egoísmo es la esencia de un alma noble. Yo detesto a los hombres, ¿entiendes? Si yo fuera Dios, no los perdonaría nunca”.) The film was one of Vertigo’s many sources of inspiration. The title of this post is a joke with Hitchcock’s comment to Buñuel about Tristana.

As you know, Buñuel was a great admirer of Les anges du péché.

Snow White’s presence in The Tree of Life encourages the association with the Spanish director. After Hitchcock, when you think about necrophilia in cinema Buñuel’s name is the next on the list.

Mrs. (Ward) Kimball?

So, what do you say? Dégueulasse? Better to elevate the subject?

Malick connects (with apparent intentionality) Ivan’s well with Snow White’s. Brilliant, no? The chimes can also be put in connection with Solaris (the visitor crossing the station).



“Vous avez des pieds de marquise.” (Et Dieu... créa la femme )

Maybe more the feet of a contessa.
This is yet simplistic. My present opinion is that Mrs. Kimball is a complex allegory of the cinema (whatever Malick might be, he is intelligent) that combines, over Hitchcock’s supremacy, allusions to several classic metaphors of Holly’s power. I wonder if each one of those places at the empty table does not correspond to a director from whom Malick took something to create Mrs. Kimball.
I maintain all I said about those feet, but it is not all. Those feet are the feet of Malick’s goddess, Mrs. Cinema, and they appear in his “graduation present”. As much as I can see, they weren’t an allusion to Buñuel back there.

Monroe and Eli Wallach dancing in The Misfits. Below, Clark Gable’s dog looking at Marylyn: “Oh, isn’t that the dearest dog? Look how sweet he sits there.” I am no expert in dogs, but this animal sure looks like Holly’s. So, this is probably a “to kill two birds with one stone” situation.

One of Badlands most famous shots shows Holly’s and Kit’s feet while they dance, hers bare, touching the dirt. There is just one immensely famous scene where that happens and, to my knowledge, just one film where “Holly’s” feet, her bare feet, are the key element. It is an absolute classic of male necrophilia and one of the masterpieces of reflexivity in the seventh art. Really necessary to say the name?
I wonder if Holly’s Cinderella mind and her coldness (“She showed no pain, no pleasure, no interest, no nothing”) doesn’t come from this movie…

The Golden Age