I know. Who cares what I think? If you don’t, then you don’t have to read. If you do, then go ahead.
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a pretty, poetic, and even confusing film created from a white, privileged, hetero male perspective. Necessarily. But to those who think The Tree of Life is all about boyhood (Roger Ebert): it probably is to you, but I beg to differ. The only person that walked out of the theater when I saw it last night was a man. My boyfriend liked it less than I liked it. But we both found plenty to say about the movie and talked about it for hours afterwards. He found it confusing and inaccessible. I found it pretty and fruitful. For whatever that’s worth.
None of the characters are realistic; they are all excellent conglomerations of pieces of people with both endearing and revolting traits. The mom was so unrealistically perfect, a pure mother Mary, and the dad so Biblically Old Testament doling out “loving” punishment, that we recognize them both as people we know, but not entirely. They are archetypes. They serve as metaphors of strict gender roles in a Judeo-Christian Western civilization. It is sad that a mom won’t speak up and a dad won’t shut up. Things I’ve learned in life: don’t expect a revolutionary message from Brad Pitt. Or Terrence Malick, for that matter.
Still, some of the themes are universal. To me, The Tree of Lifeis a meditation about nature v. grace, or the cruelty and goodness found simultaneously in nature, humanity, and history. I think most Arab Muslims and American Christians and Tibetan Buddhists would agree that humans are interested in the struggle between cruelty and goodness within our souls and in our environment.
Why do young boys get together and strap a frog to an exploding rocket? Why does a big brother put his little brother in danger? Why does a little brother trust so unconditionally? Why did a sweet 19 year old boy die? Why did God take him? Nobody knows. It is disgustingly sad that parents outlive their children, yet it is a fucking terrible truth.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone very close to you die. But when my dad died when I was 19, my thoughts turned to God and the Universe and BIG, mysterious, unanswerable questions. I wrote letters and emails and journal entries that didn’t make a lick of sense; I’m sure my best friend at the time thought I was going crazy. The week after my dad died, I went back to college, and I bought a strand of Christmas lights, and I put them up on my dormroom wall in the shape of a tree. I told everyone who came to visit me that it was the ‘Tree of Life.’ No kidding. I still have pictures of it. Maybe I was going crazy, or maybe I was grieving.
To me, the human mind is hard-wired toward nostalgia. It is hard to sit in reality when you are greiving. You’ll let your mind wander. Anywhere but the pain of here and now is better, you think. We grow into adults and get unhappy and look back. But Malick’s film reminds us that we might all do well to notice how the buildings and bridges and the trees and planets and jellyfish are endlessly curious. Humans may be innately impatient and in a hurry; but I’m convinced capitalism makes this worse. See the modern-day character played by Sean Penn. It is sad how a little boy can grow up to be the man he knew he would become, but didn’t try or want to become.We should all pay attention more.
Except when CGI dinosaurs appear on-screen. WHY!?! They made me cringe like when my mom says something awkward in the middle of a delicious dinner. I’m just gonna pretend it didn’t happen.
Back to the one thing every viewer and reviewer of the movie seems compelled to acknowledge: this movie is gorgeous. Roger Ebert was on to something when he said, “Rarely does a film seem more obviously a collaboration of love between a director and his production designer, in this case, Jack Fisk.” Awe. And I would say the wardrobe designer deserves some props, too. So here’s to Jacqueline West! I loved the wardrobe. Loved. Every. Dress. That. Mama. Wore.
Often, we want direct messages, commandments almost. But we don’t get that with The Tree of Life, and I respect that Malick, instead, offers up a scenic-route meditation. I like the scenic route. I take it whenever possible.
September 5, 2009
Maybe you all have heard the story of Caster Semenya, the South African runner who won the 800m gold medal at the world championships recently; she is amazing, and fast, and muscular, and doesn’t wear her hair down when she runs. Then, lo and behold, concerns were raised that she wasn’t really a female. So the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), put her through several tests- including hormonal, gynecological!, and psychological- to prove she was a female.
All this, and Semenya is 18 years old.
The hormone tests are now back, and the results show that she has unusually high levels of testosterone “expected in a female sample”.
Here’s (some of) the problems:
#1 Testosterone levels vary from person to person, from male to male, and from female to female. They also vary at different times of the month, different times of your life (increasing during puberty), even at different times during any given day (highest in the morning), and over the course of any given activity (levels drop after ejaculation, for instance). They often increase under pressure or when risk or harm is posed to an individual. They also increase in winners of a competition and decrease in the losers of a competition!
To summarize, my first point is that TESTOSTERONE LEVELS ARE TOO COMPLICATED AND MYSTERIOUS TO PROVE SOMETHING AS BANAL AS WHETHER OR NOT AN INDIVIDUAL IS MALE OR FEMALE.
#2 People who have been writing about this case, as well as the people who are conducting the testing of Semenya make no distinction between the terms ‘SEX’ and ‘GENDER.’ See ESPN. See The Guardian. See USA Today. What’s the big difference, you ask? It is this: SEX refers to the type of reproductive organs you are born with. What’s between your legs, to put is vulgarly. However, and this is a big however, more than two sexes exist in ALL animal species, especially the human species. When you are born with a mash-up, a variety, a rainbow of XX AND XY chromosomes, you are intersex. Sometimes, being intersex shows up at birth (which presents a real problem for these babies because they encounter all kinds of doctor and parental biases toward “girls” and “boys”.) But sometimes nobody, not even you yourself will know that you are born with both kinds of chromosomes. Sometimes, men have a penis, produce offspring, feel and look like a regular dude, but upon autopsy after they die, they are found to also have a set of ovaries! This chart is very enlightening if you want to look into intersex diversity further.
Okay, so what is ‘GENDER’? Gender is how an individual identifies her or himself. Period. That’s it, in my humble opinion. And, this is why, to me, the Caster Semenya story is such a tragedy. She says she’s a girl. She was raised as a girl. She wore skirts to school for cryin’ out loud! No matter what any doctor with ten degrees says, or what endocrinology tests show, there is only one expert on Caster Semenya’s gender, and that is Caster Semenya!
The test results may show that she is intersex or whatever, but that doesn’t prove she was cheating, nor do I think that means that she should be disqualified. It means that the categories that sports and the rest of our society have constructed are too plain to contain our complexities as human beings.
I also think that she is being poked and prodded like a fuckin’ animal, and I think it’s because she is a woman and she is good and she is black and she is young. Which is fuckin’ disgusting. So there.
Pardon my language,
February 22, 2009
what do you think?
should folks who cannot carry and bear children be able to vote on the abortion issue? why or why not?–or to resist binarism, just feel free to not pick a side and say something in general. (personal note: i like to say no, they shouldn’t. not that it would ever happen, but to be essentialist for a tiny minute, i think that men are worried about women having the power to decide to have the baby or not. do people who are not able to grow embryos and feti in their bodies not trust those who are able to do so?)
NOTE: ultimately, to me, this isn’t a men/women issue; it’s a who can bear and who can’t issue. gender is socially defined, not biologically. sex is defined biologically. and sex is as fluid as gender (i love you, trannies!). some men can bear children, and some cannot–same for women. some men would want to, and some wouldn’t–same for women. and yes, it does take an egg and a sperm to make an embryo. however, only one person’s body actually carries the embryo and fetus and bears the infant.
i’m not trying to rile y’all up. just wondering. secondary question: if only people who can carry children decided whether or not abortion was legal/illegal/etc., how would the issue and laws be affected? try not to be heteronormative and also try to re-think gender and sex. have fun!