Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.
But this is the thing with Trier, why it's so troubling to dismiss him; even though he makes art about a meaningless world - and so why pay attention? - he remains a powerful poet of cinema. So he is an anti-Tarkovsky, which perhaps explains why he opens the film with The Hunters in the Snow - a painting used in Solyaris - burning, and why horses are forced to kneel in the face of petulant violence. Whereas Tarkovsky understood the universe to be centered inside, and used that to sculpt space and metaphor from that center, Trier is grounded nowhere; so he resolves to orbit from one periphery to the next, nicely framing for us anxieties that we can relate to but with no deeper insight of their mechanism.
But now and then he works from a powerful set of ideas. Here it is the mirrored metaphor; the pain and suffering of life on earth as mirrored on the cosmic level, and our hope that this suffering looming above will just pass us by. It is not sci-fi in any way you may recognize, or anymore than Tree of Life is.
It does not work like that, of course, that is a given. So we are placed in the shoes of the woman - the bride in her wedding reception, where life is ritually supposed to become orderly, assuring, meaningful - and forced to make our way for the occasion wearing a forced smile, and hoping the pain will just pass us by. Yes, it does not work like that. The mother is haughty and domineering, the father sloppy and indiscreet. Everyone else is busy performing their roles, going through motions, speeches, confrontations which are often funny but always grueling to see. So,with the soul unsupervised, the perfect occasion for happiness inexplicably crumbles from inside.
The second part is about the sister, who already has the perfectly happy life or is supposed to. But again, of course, it doesn't work. Suffering, uncertainty hangs above that we can't simply brush off. So it is the dawning of acceptance that governs this part of the film; but, properly at least for Trier and in a way that should make sense, we're shown the impossibility of that acceptance. Faces are increasingly bewildered, affections grow distant, motions agitated.
A lot of my distaste for what Trier does, is exemplified in a scene where the depressed sister confronts the other; instead of reciprocating the nurture and support, however obligatory it may have seemed at the time, she preys on her weakness. Why drink wine in the veranda and pretend none of this is going to happen? Why not?
But the acceptance is handled with so much nihilism, a sort of comfortable noncommittal, that I want to take a step back. No equanimity flows from Trier's emptiness, and so the vision is useless for me. I want films embedded in a world that matters in some way. Yes, we're all going to face an inscrutable fate, but it's one thing to frame this with compassion, another thing altogether to frame with contempt or cold satisfaction.
So it is apt to compare with Tree of Life on more than just the cosmic level of wheels whirring life into pattern; there is the sense of emptying out, the search for a true face that restores meaning. Malick goes the extra mile though, he reconciles into the impermanence of all things and from there a deep, loving humanity. Trier is simply left aghast at it. Sex is a vice and the mind is unable to cope; so he merely casts the characters away at the precipice. But not before ironically rendering human faith as a magical cave made from fire sticks.
Oh, he captures the drab, grueling unlife of depression well, no wonder as he knows from personal experience. And a google search seems to yield a nod at Filippino filmmaker Lav Diaz, that was pretty unexpected.
There are aesthetically-minded pleasures though that you should see; planets caressing each other like faces below, a bird's eye view of horses galloping. Some of it borders on kitsch when Kirsten Dunst is photographed naked beneath the moonglow, the schadenfreude is so earnestly conceived.
And there is the parting image; I don't know how much of it was the theater, technology, but it swell up into the most deafening, soul-crushing crescendo. I could feel particles being dislocated inside of me. But considering what comes before, it's not something I wanted to swim into but let wash. It's fitting for Trier though, the wagnerian sound of the void washing life empty.
It is a powerful work, don't just take it lightly. But I urge you to meditate against it.
Oh yes, it is all going to end sooner or later. But, as a principle, I urge you to never settle for a destructive void in your life: in the midst of blistering destruction, try to see around you what the Eastern mystics knew as the universe of 10,000 beautiful things trampled by god Shiva in his final dance. Let yourself be filled with a profound sadness that is joy for the 10,000 beautiful things around you.
- Sep 20, 2011