I saw three mind-altering films in this past week. All three executed uniquely and brilliantly what I feel is the intention and truth of almost any form of art, and that is to epiphanize you, to inspire a light bulb moment, to make you think and feel in a new and interesting way. All three stayed with me, I’m still processing them even as I type. Each made me reflect on what it is to be human, to be alive on Earth, and how to navigate the very short time we seem to have in the most effective and positive way. These films each vary in tone, story, concept and expression, but they all linked together for me, each providing their own lessons in how (and sometimes how not) to live.
The Tree of Life is a sweeping epic directed by motion picture impressionist Terrence Malick. I’d seen previews, read some reviews, and heard a lot of talk surrounding this film, but nothing prepared me for the engrossing experience that was watching it in its entirety. It is bold and unique and spellbinding. I was captivated, mouth agape, brain stimulated, heart swelling. It takes place during different time periods, a major plot focus being in a suburban American home in the 1950’s, cross-referenced with the present day, following a now adult from said 50’s home, and then magnificently intertwined with awe-inspiring images from space, nature and what one can only assume is imagination. Living with two cinematographers is akin to living with anyone with a specific skill-set. Except there’s two. So they’re speaking in this lingo, a photography based language, and similar to when you live in another country and simply hearing the language consistently helps you assimilate and learn it yourself, I’m appreciating shots, angles, lighting and the sheer visual spectacle that filmmakers pull off even more than I used to. This film has incomprehensible visuals, a thought-provoking story and lingering resonance.
Leading the film in yet another interesting role is Brad Pitt. Man has he had a fantastic year. I alluded to his talent and choices in my enthusiastic recommendation of Moneyball, and somehow I’m filled with even more excitement and vigor to spread the word about the Tree of Life. Brad plays a 1950’s archetype, the post WW2 father of three boys, a wannabe musician/composer, his character chooses instead a more traditional career path in order to support his family. He perfectly showcases what many of our father’s fathers probably exemplified; a slightly awkward but loving affection toward his sons and family, with an even more exaggerated disciplinarian, sensitive and exhaustively tough at the same time, and often in hurtful, unnecessary ways. This isn’t to discredit or even criticize these mostly wonderful men, but as we evolve, we get better, and I certainly see that in the men I know, how they’ve grown, learned from their mistakes, from their parent’s highs and lows, and how they now integrate who they are and who they were into the man they are now. Sean Penn plays Pitt’s eldest son as full-grown man, in the present day, still discombobulated by his past, his loss, and how to get to a better place for his future. This movie is too dense, too rich with symbolism and metaphor to adequately describe it, but trust that it is an extraordinary piece of work very much worth your time.
Throughout the film, we cascade up and down the muse for the film itself, trees. Having an appreciation and wonder for these old, majestic sculptures of nature brings genuine stillness to humans, freeze framing a moment outside of the chaos that is modern life. There’s something their strength, endurance and purpose can show humans beyond their gift of oxygen or paper. To sit with a tree and do nothing, say nothing, think nothing, is to sit with God/light/truth/essence/Love, and to feel that same life and essence within yourself. Throughout the film, whether it be through the subconscious of the father, mother, the son as a child or the son as an adult, we’re brought back to the simplicity and entity of life itself, that which connects us all, bringing us back down to Earth, out of our heads and back into our hearts, back to faith (the modern application, not the religious one) and hope and love, through the desperate yearning of each character. We see through their eyes, hear in their voices what they’ve lost touch with, what they’ve forgotten, how far they’ve deviated from the truth and how desperately they wish to find it again. It is a breath-taking and phenomenal reminder of the way back, the path to enlightenment, happiness, love, mere contentment, however you define a good life, and that is found by sifting through the muck and the mire and stripping away the melodrama, the clinging to the past, the anxiety over the future, to what we all are, ALIVE. We are alive and we take the miracle of that alone for granted. Next time you see a tree, let it be your path out of crankiness, complaining and negativity, and back into gratitude, optimism and Love.
Winnebago Man is a documentary about a man who has been deemed the angriest man alive. Jack Rebney, an 80’s RV salesman and former journalist, become one of the world’s first viral video sensations when a 2 minute compilation of his outtakes took the VHS world by storm. Yes, VHS. Back in those days, people would watch the video, make their own copy and spread it that way. Then, thanks to Al Gore and his handy invention, the video spread like wildfire on the internet and has since been parodied by numerous comedians and celebrities and has garnered Jack a strong cult following. The clip is funny, a bit jarring and mostly just fascinating. Who is Jack Rebney? Is he still the angriest man in the world? Is he aware of his cyber notoriety? Where is he and what does he have to say? These are just a few questions the documentarians wanted to answer while making this film.
Throughout we watch the over 20 year saga unfold, learning about Jack back then, his legion of fans now, and the complicated process by which the filmmakers found him, living alone, deep in the woods of California. This movie is constantly surprising, by turning the focus on Jack, we see how frustration, impatience and anger can eat away at who we are, ultimately revealing a battered soul underneath all the armor. To see and hear Jack now and to watch his journey unfold as he deals with his infamy, his legacy and ultimately meets his loyal devotees is a very endearing and moving human interest story that helps shine a spotlight on our own attitudes and behaviors. I left feeling an increased dose of compassion, toward those carrying similar traits, to those who’ve had a negative impact on me, and certainly compassion toward myself. We’re all works in progress and can learn from Jack and from each other. I’m so glad I watched this film. Give it a whirl.
Last night I watched a chilling documentary that recently won Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. If A Tree Falls follows the story of a radical environmentalist group accused of arson and more astounding, eco-terrorism. You read the synopsis of a film, a brief biography of someone’s life, a glimpse into their reality, and it’s so easy and common to make snap judgments, to assume which side we fall on in the debate and that we’ve figured these people out. Think again. Whenever you assume, take a breath, create space and give yourself the opportunity to be wrong. I certainly was wrong in any preconceived notions I had and I’m grateful to learn. This film does brilliantly what any solid documentary should, tells an objective story, with all sides of the argument, providing facts and opinion, and leaving the audience to make up their own minds in the end.
The film follows Daniel McCowan, a major player in the ELF, the Earth Liberation Front, his involvement with the group, the multiple arsons and property destruction him and the ELF orchestrated, their arrests in 2005 and the enigmatic dismantling of what was initially a peaceful, conscious movement. I referred to this phenomenon in last week’s article about Science and Spirituality, but I’d like to shed light again on what a divisive subculture we’ve created seemingly worldwide, but especially rampant here and that’s the simple issue of environmentalism. I cannot fathom why this has become a partisan issue. It frustrates the living shit out of me, truly tugs at my gut, that those falling to the far right or left of these issues will not come together to improve the quality of air we breathe, the energy we consume, the resources we deplete. Why you’d automatically make up your mind on an issue simply because of what your bullshit politician/talking head tells you (because of which lobbyist or corporate entity is currently paying their rather expensive bills) is flabbergasting to me. Regardless how seriously you take the issue of clean water, air, conservation, climate change, animal welfare or the life of trees in general shouldn’t matter. We’re sharing this planet, this air, this water, this life, together, and we should find some common ground on how to productively improve our way of life. Easier said than done, but easier without squawking egos and their legions of seemingly blind followers. There’s plenty of good out there, no intention to be negative, but watching people argue solves nothing. We can absolutely come to a consensus, educate ourselves and make adjustments to improve our well-being.
All that being said, this film does a superb job in creating empathy and understanding for each side involved. The ELF began peacefully, as I stated previously, aiming to protect the formidable natural skyscrapers still left in the forests of Oregon. 95% of the forest has been manhandled, stripped and used for lumber. The images captured from various cameras sends chills and sadness down my spine. To watch thousand year old trees, with trunks that could fill up a suburban garage, being cut down, bit by bit, by men with huge saws, is disheartening and humbling. I knew this. I’ve seen other footage, but to watch it all go down and to see aerial views of the barren land, scant now missing these incredible beasts, leaves me bewildered and upset. The extent to which you take your emotions into action is what is questionable here. First, they linked themselves together, blocking access to the forest. You think while watching, “hell yes, high-five, keep it up,” but then it escalates. Stemming from various atrocities with law enforcement, where you watch officers physically open protesters’s eyes to infect them with pepper spray, as they’re literally just sitting, not showcasing aggression or disrespect, merely acting out of their constitutional right to protest, is gut-wrenching, even more so than watching each tree fall. You then see how violence inspires and begets violence, like attracts like, and the law of attraction just explodes within the system of ELF and what was once an earnest demonstration now becomes aggressive criminal acts as the members intelligently set flame to businesses and establishments responsible for much of the deforestation in our country. No human being has ever been killed or even injured from any of these fires.
The film flips back and forth between members of the FBI, owners of the lumber company whose offices were burnt to the ground, and a few key members of ELF as they weave through this crime drama. The degree and action taken accumulates and the tension accelerates to a palpable degree. I highly recommend observing how this true story turns out. After watching I sincerely understand and relate to each side. I see the motivation and beliefs in each party and I’m saddened to see where this story has led. What it left me feeling was informed, saddened and appalled. How did we come to this? Is this just the impetus for our breakthrough? Can we find common ground without throwing the baby out with the bath water? I’m hopeful and encouraged by those leading by example, bridging gaps and ignoring nay-sayers. The key, fundamental lesson in this story and in our current stream of consciousness is being vehemently opposed or against something or someone only serves to create more of the same. While the dialogue protesting galvanized is important and I think beneficial to culture as a whole, it is monumentally detrimental to those involved in the fight, doing the protesting or resisting the opposition. You cannot fight negativity with negativity, we’ve seen how that works out. As human beings, in our rather short 150,000 years on this planet, we’ve managed to overcome and transcend some fairly hideous and extreme norms, particularly in most industrialized nations. The war against drugs, poverty, terrorism (in all its derivations), gay marriage, women’s rights, and anything sparking hostile disagreements leads to only create more of the same.
More than that, those engrossed in these efforts, most to an obsessive, consuming level, are living a life full of anger, frustration, hate and negativity, on all sides of the argument. How is that to help the progress of the human race? Building those feelings day in and day out leads to unconsciousness, egomaniacal outbursts, and an early death, on an individual and societal scale. You get what you give, the frequency with which you operate only fuels whatever fire you’re currently and progressively stoking, so if you join up with like-minds, and in this case very radical minds, minds consumed with fear and rage, the only way to communicate is through incremental force, one-upping yourselves and your enemy. Thumbs up. What was so poignantly summed up toward the end of If A Tree Falls is the wisdom of hindsight. Most members of the ELF now regret the way they got their point across, as similarly reflected in law enforcement. Neither got what they wanted, they’re left with a bad reputation and a lingering residue of their caustic thoughts, emotions, and actions. It’s great to have this conversation, and applying the can’t we all get along philosophy is not the solution, or even a realistic one; but implementing a movement and cause that is FOR something, instead of AGAINST it, something that encourages and multiplies positive efforts, logical change, and even compromise is a value system which can actually stimulate evolution, seeing the changes we want to see and watching the increasing infallible growth among the human race. Through other’s hindsight, we can utilize foresight to affect our future.
The greatest caveat to supreme learning and optimal happiness is to carry humility, to be comfortable in what you do not know and eager to find out more; to listen, to be patient with yourself and others, and to enjoy the necessary steps in taking your imagination into reality. It is a bio-psychological imperative to evolve beyond our fears, beyond our limitations, most of which are brought on by death, the knowledge of our own mortality and the trap that is our perceived timeline. Some of us who don’t believe in a pre-deterministic God, meaning a being/man/woman/omniscient vessel who’s orchestrating all of our events on Earth, determining each one of our fates and somehow designing all 7 billion of our lives, find ourselves bogged down by the pessimistic thought that life is meaningless, that somehow because we are armed with the responsibility to create our own happiness and success, to then become worm’s meat, leads some of us down this narrowing tunnel of stagnation. When we place bets on fear, on retreating, on withholding, on resisting change and progression, we win that bet every damn time. The same is the case when using violent tactics to force change. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy like everything your mind has ever constructed and repeated. Imagine if you just opened yourself to possibility and potential, to saying yes over no, to talking yourself into things rather than out of them. Your world and your experience of life would far exceed what it does otherwise, and the ripple effect on those around you would be tremendous.
Human Beings are what we are. Being Human is what we do. Be (human)e, to yourself, to your planet and all who share it with you.