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8426more on Malick's writing style, where East meets West

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  • Oscar Houck
    May 22, 2012
      Hi Angela,

      When I think about Malick and East vs. West writing styles, especially with
      the arrival of *Tree of Life*, I think of a mandorla, which is a word you
      don't hear to often anymore. Not a mandala, but a mandorla, the space where
      two arcs or circles intersect. Think of the Christian sign or symbol of the
      fish. The body of the fish is the mandorla. And "religion" in this sense,
      and the Malickian one, takes on its literal meaning, which is to re-bind,
      or re-unite, to bridge. In *Tree* we have the ways of Nature (of which man,
      especially the obvious evils of the patriarchy, is a part) and the way of
      Grace. The two paths are exemplified by the father and the mother in the
      film. What the Sean Penn character (Malick's auto-biographical *doppleganger
      *) manages to do internally is to assimilate both of these ways of being.
      It's not an either-or proposition. This is where true grace or our sense of
      what's holy is to be found, if only fleetingly. It's not by deciding for
      feminine values over masculine, or light over dark, right over wrong, but
      in realizing we contain both and in accessing and honoring the best of
      both. It has a lot to do with the Jungian concept of owning your shadow,
      making what heretofore had been unconscious, conscious. This is what
      happens in what is nearly the film's final sequence, what many viewers have
      wrongly assumed is Malick's version of heaven. It is instead a kind of
      heaven on earth, an internal heaven that's available to all of us, when we
      manage to briefly go there. It's the place of the internal mandorla, where
      Penn's character accepts and reconciles all of the "ghosts" that live
      within him, his dead brother, the seemingly opposing ways of life, of
      being, that he inherited from his mother and father. It's a place where all
      is forgiven (accepted, reconciled, re-united) and people can fully love one
      another. All of this is accomplished on a metaphorical level by Malick's
      mastery of East meets West, where your discussion of writing styles is
      concerned. Malick creates better than perhaps anyone, the lyrical moment,
      the impressionistic paintings of life that he seems to create using light,
      natural light, but golden, sun dappled, magical. Think back to *DOH,
      *essentially
      a silent film told with beautiful, often breathtaking images, helped along
      by a voiceover narrative. *Tree *enjoys the same impressionistic and
      elliptical approach, what some viewers see as a lack of plot. But, it also
      contains or holds all the plot one should need, the story of a family and
      of a boy growing into manhood. I can't think of a clearer, more linear plot
      than that. So, Malick manages to blend two styles, and although it's not
      what we're used to, it makes for all the more delight in repeated viewings.
      *The Thin Red Line* for example is a diamond that reveals more and more
      brilliant facets, the more times you see it. In Malick, East meets West, in
      more ways than one, and perhaps this is his greatest strength, the gift of
      his personal mandorla, his version, his vision of grace.

      I think also of Emerson and his seemingly rambling essays that are
      brilliant despite their difficulty or refusal to be "translated" easily.
      They always circle back to their essential meaning, as do Malick's films.
      And Emerson was certainly familiar with Eastern religion and philosophy as
      he searched for a new voice for his America.

      Lastly, I think of the essential American storytellers, the Native
      Americans, who relied almost strictly on an oral tradition and their
      pictographs. Their own early movies, on the winter count of a teepee for
      instance, with voiceover supplied around the campfire. Where visual memory
      meets language, a mandorla, a holy place.

      All best, Oscar

      On Sun, May 20, 2012 at 9:29 AM, Angela Havel <anghave@...> wrote:

      > **
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > Here's the correct link to the internal/external plot info:
      > http://www.svic.net/pearl/plot.html
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >A misplaced comma messed up the link in my previous post.
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >I know I learned at some point in a graduate school literature course
      > that stories in the Eastern tradition of plot don't privilege the rising
      > action/climax/falling action model we're all used to in the West. If you
      > looked at the East vs. West styles in a graph, the West shows a rising
      > curve to a climax while the Eastern tradition would show a horizontal line
      > with several small rises, rather than a rise to one climax. However, this
      > source is lost to memory, and after some searching online, I don't see a
      > good compare/contrast of the two styles. The best I can find for now is a
      > piece that discusses the Eastern tradition of *oral* storytelling, which
      > includes some description in the third and fourth paragraphs about the
      > bardic tradition and storytellers as "healers" that makes me think Malick
      > studies and appreciates the Eastern storytelling forms:
      > http://www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/dir/traditions/asiamiddleeast.html
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >I'll bet this presentation would be useful in getting more insight into
      > the differences between the Eastern and Western traditions:
      > http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Campbell-Shaping-Eastern-Tradition/dp/1583500545/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337458841&sr=8-1
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >I doubt Malick reads Joseph Campbell, but Malick may have read some of
      > the original sources from which Campbell creates his "lay person's guide to
      > myths." However, Malick's films are not Myth 101--I'd put them at an
      > 800-level course--which is what I like about them, and which is what many
      > others don't like about them.
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >>________________________________
      > >> From: Frank Cook <orbital.11@...>
      > >>To: anghave@...
      > >>Sent: Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:48 PM
      > >>Subject: RE: [terrencemalick] Malick sightings
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Hi..
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Could you repost this link ? It doesn't seem to be working..I'm really
      > interested in what you said about Eastern style of storytelling vs Western
      > style..Could you give me more info-via your opinion or through other
      > sources?
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>http://www.svic.net/pearl/plot.html%2c...
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Thanks,
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Frank
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Look up! Look up! Seek your maker fore Gabriel blows his horn...
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>________________________________
      > >>To: terrencemalick@yahoogroups.com
      > >>From: anghave@...
      > >>Date: Sat, 19 May 2012 11:33:40 -0700
      > >>Subject: Re: [terrencemalick] Malick sightings
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Thanks for posting...the comments below clip are humorous..."HE DOES
      > EXIST!!!"
      > >>
      > >>I finally saw Tree of Life.
      > >>
      > >>Observations:
      > >>
      > >>The mom floating was trippy.
      > >>
      > >>Brad Pitt's face is too kindly-looking to convincingly play a mean
      > father.
      > >>
      > >>I related to the part where the family relaxes when the dad leaves for
      > his trip...my father was much harsher than Malick's appeared to be, though.
      > (Isn't it generally agreed this film is about Malick's own family?)
      > >>
      > >>Liked the originality of presentation, though a small part of me agrees
      > withChristopher Plummer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw08GQw0hBI
      > >>
      > >>However, Malick doesn't "need a writer." He's a great writer himself,
      > evidenced by his characterizations, dialogue, detailed descriptions, and
      > general subtlety that marks a good writer in the two scripts I've read,
      > Badlands and Days of Heaven.Starting with The Thin Red Line, he favors an
      > Eastern style of story-telling, where "external" plot is not as important
      > as "internal" plot (see http://www.svic.net/pearl/plot.html,) and there
      > is no clearly-delineated exposition, rising action, climax, falling action,
      > or denouement. Not necessarily a bad thing, but unsettling to those who
      > cannot forego the Western-style "external" plot.
      > >>
      > >>I appreciate Malick thumbing his nose at the conventions of Western
      > story-telling, yet I like his first two films, the two that display more
      > conventional story lines, better than his later films. Not sure what that
      > means.
      > >>
      > >>>________________________________
      > >>> From: vanvutu <vanvutu@...>
      > >>>To: terrencemalick@yahoogroups.com
      > >>>Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:38 PM
      > >>>Subject: [terrencemalick] Malick sightings
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>From the current (May/June) issue of FILM COMMENT:
      > >>>
      > >>>Longtime Austin resident Terrence Malick
      > >>>was spotted at SXSW shooting material
      > >>>for his film about local music scenesters.
      > >>>Once known as LAWLESS, the movie awaits
      > >>>a re-christening after Malick generously
      > >>>ceded the title to John Hillcoat, who'd
      > >>>wanted it for the upcoming Prohibition
      > >>>crime drama. Not-LAWLESS stars Christian
      > >>>Bale, Ryan Gosling, Cate Blanchett,
      > >>>Rooney Mara, and Natalie Portman, and
      > >>>will be followed, per Malick's newly accel-
      > >>>erated rate of production, by KNIGHT OF
      > >>>CUPS, which re-teams Bale-Blanchett-
      > >>>Portman and is apparently named after
      > >>>a tarot card. No reports at press time of
      > >>>demand for the latter title.
      > >>>
      > >>>++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
      > >>>
      > >>>And here is a video of Malick filming something with Christian
      > Bale.During the shooting, a female bystander interrupts by offering Bale a
      > canned beverage, which he accepts. She walks away saying, "That was so
      > awesome!"
      > >>>
      > >>>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY__M_5WWjA
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>
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      > >
      > >
      >
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