Mutter Nacht

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

This post was to be called Angels are not cruel enough to hide until I noticed that Ashley was cruel enough to. So, radical solution: all references to Ashley were extracted from the blog.


Even if his intentions might seem far from serious, this artist brought psychoanalysis to the field. I have decided to force myself to write on the subject one or two light posts.
At least as a possibility to be explored, psychoanalysis is hanging over this blog from its very beginning, from the first post’s title. To those acquainted with Freud and his followers this title might have brought to mind more than imago and fiction: family romances. But that is not today’s theme and probably never will be. It is not compelling to drive this blog into speculations about Malick’s relation with his parents or about his childhood. It is obscene, out of scene, in all Malick’s films (studying with care The Thin Red Line made me understand to what point that is true) and it will be kept that way, without prejudice of some future considerations about his psychopathy. If you remember, just one time it was necessary to go into Malick’s (true) family, in order to clarify that “He died when he was 19.”


Mother…  “Long have I loved you and for my own delight would call you mother” is very different from Long have I loved you with delight, like my mother (sorry, Hölderlin). The idea of getting into this kind of stuff à propos de Malick came from the vague recollection of an article about Sternberg’s (let’s forget that Hollywoodian “von”) cinema. I had forgotten its title – Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema – and was wrong about the author’s identity – Gaylyn Studlar. The 1985 article, quite famous, was developed in a 1988 book, which I haven’t read. Briefly, masochism, departing from Deleuze’s theory, was equated with Sternberg’s work and the movie spectator (‘s pleasures) with the passive child before the mother. Why the article came to my mind? Because Malick’s spectators assume the position of the child desiring to be controlled within the dynamics of the fantasy, to enjoy the pleasures of submission with no great consequence. The child who doesn’t want to grow, who refuses to answer the question: where was I when Malick laid the foundations of the Earth and made the morning stars sang together before my eyes? The child who does not put the question of the Father, whose ghost is O’Brien.
And Malick?


The director’s look toward us – O’Brien’s, the architect’s – is structurally criminal, sadistic. There is not a trace of masochism, only pure unrestricted debauchery. There is a single non-metaphorical image of the film spectator in his work, Linda (and the rest) looking at the arrival at the promised land in The Immigrant. This is certainly a self-portrait of this sadistic Malick arriving at his heterotopia. (After reading the script and looking to Linda’s scenes carefully, I believe today that the relation with Chaplin is probably intended with Abby [Paulette Goddard played an Abby] and Bill and not primarily with the girl; that is why she is The Kid). With her eyes wide open, seemingly excited, Linda speaks about the devil who is “just sitting there laughing”, about how he is “glad when people does bad”. Well, the only bad thing that we could have done was to trust him, sitting “all tied up” in the movie theater with our good (and more than natural) ideas about him. We were just too distracted to notice how Kit played with the mop. It all belonged to an order of things too heterotopic to come to our minds, or not to be repressed by our minds. And so Malick knew that we would probably end falling in love with Madeleine/Mother/Cinema. That moment the movie theater became his “snake house,” where the snakes eat “your eyes out” and go “down your throat and eat all your systems out”.
I think the devil was on the farm.”

I ask myself what this devilish kitsch creature is to Malick. And if it is the devil himself? Dieterles, I mean... Or is it one of the seven dwarfs?

This is Malick as “Nature”, pure delight in mastery, ordering things, godlike dominion and destruction. O’Brien holding Mother Cinema in his arms. To what extent Malick’s work is Sadian (and not only sadistic) would be an interesting question to put futurely. For now, let us see Malick as our brother... spectator.




Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt
liebliches Geläute.
Klinge, kleines Frühlingslied,
kling hinaus ins Weite.

Kling hinaus bis an das Haus,
wo die Blumen sprießen.
Wenn du eine Rose schaust,
sag, ich laß sie grüßen.

Although much more important, Malick, the father, should not make us forget Malick, the son, Steve. Among other things, Steve permits to add an extra degree of complexity to the image of his relation with cinema, to portrait himself, his cinematic “one big self”, in certain modes of spectatorship (including towards his own work) not included in Waco’s almighty father. To make his vertiginous experiment more vertiginous.
In that first night, mother’s night, Mrs. Cinema tells us about how she went for a ride in a plane once. This story, like I have said, is nothing but Badlands, the story of how Kit/Malick knew Holly, Father met Mother. Steve, the little snake, is listening, of course. This metaphorical bedtime story made me remind of one of Malick’s beloved scarlet empress’ films, Blonde Venus, in which Helen/Dietrich and Ned/Herbert Marshall tell (and act) for their son Johnny the “Germany story”, the story of how they met. If there is a film in which Studlar’s ideas find easy illustration is Blonde Venus. This love story between mother and son actually ends with a (Johnny’s) point-of-view shot of the music-box’s artificial heaven while Mother sings us Heine’s poem. I ask myself if it is an image capable of expressing Malick’s “heaven”: to go asleep from a condemned world in Mother’s arms.


Dreyer’s Day of Wrath. Anne offers Martin water from the spring: “More?” Martin answers: “Water? No.” “ Of what then?” She offers him her lips: “Drink!”

We. We together. One being. Flow together like water, till I can’t tell you from me. I drink you. Now. Now.
(The Thin Red Line)

The decisive moment comes to my mind: the architect driven towards the woman’s belly. It is not only vampirization which is at stake. He is entering her, disappearing in her, fusing with her, being absorbed into Mother Cinema. Is not such an involution – such an invagination – the perfect metaphor of Malick’s experiment? To disappear in the celluloid, to melt in the River of Life with the object of his desire, to consume himself in evil? Mother… Remember Mephistopheles’ words?

I am a portion of that part which once was everything,
a part of darkness which gave birth to Light,
that haughty Light which now disputes the rand and ancient sway of Mother Night

The critical legacy of Jean-Louis Baudry’s The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema (1975) testifies how popular is the image of corporeal absorption crafted by Malick in the desert’s door scene. His article presented cinema as “a representation of the maternal womb, of the matrix into which we are supposed to wish to return.” Departing from Bertram Lewin’s “dream screen”, Baudry saw what he called the “dream effect” of cinema as “the submersion of the subject in his representations.” Illibatezza by Rosselini for Ro.Go.Pa.G.