I just watched Sally Potter's Orlando last night. A few days prior I went to the theater to see The Tree of Life. Both are visually stunning, and somewhat stylized, symbolic and non-linear in their approach. There's lots to love about these two movies, but I think what I love the most is that they use the medium of film to its best advantage. It's like you don't ask a strawberry to be a banana. The strawberry is best as a strawberry. That's how these films are to me. They exploit the power of moving images to affect us, not necessarily to tell an easily understood story by the mind. The mind works, of course, to organize...but often I found myself just letting go of making sense in that way and falling into the world of moving color, design, wonder. It's like what I imagine telepathy might be like -- their vision straight to my head. And the little things became stars -- the way light plays off the planes of a glass building, the way Orlando would gaze suddenly straight at us shattering the lens that separates, or the sounds of trees rustling and insects humming on an otherwise silent summer day. Trees as architecture, or as filterers of light and love, were truly lead characters in The Tree of Life.
It reminds me of a time when Liz, my high school social studies teacher, rather mocked someone she talked with who said to her, "Have you ever really thought about trees?" "Have you ever really hugged a tree?" She thought that was sort of laughable and that the guy certainly must have been stoned. But somehow those questions have stuck with me. Because, no, I never had really thought about trees and I realized at that moment I wanted to.
So, 20 odd years later when I do my mudpacking to detox I have a lawn chair set up faciing a large pine tree in my backyard. For the 10 minutes that the mud is soaking out toxins from whatever part of my body I have it smeared on, I sit there in silence considering the tree. For the 10 minutes afterwards when I must be outside with my feet on the earth to ground myself, I consider the tree. And then for the 10 minutes after that when I soak my feet in salts and clay to draw out any remaining toxins from the session, I consider the tree.
I have to say I really have no words for those 30 minutes of my morning. But The Tree of Life seems to capture how sublime it is. That pine tree will probably be there for another 100 years or more. It'll just be there, in silence, a home to birds and squirrels, moving in the wind, standing in the snow, sending out little bright green shoots on the ends of its branches every spring. And I will have lived all motion and searching, and brief. We are not immortal like Orlando. Nor are we ageless like stones or still and planted like trees. We do not live from age to age. We are that brief burst of color, and longing, and wonder, bearing witness to what we are not.
And through that we learn what we are. The people who help us there are doing amazing, important work. Our consideration is important work.