taken apart

I have been taken apart by the horrible movie Tree Of Life, and it might be some time before I am put back together again. I wish I could go back and un-see it. I do not think that beauty excuses cowardice, anger excuses the abuse of children, or the pretensions of High Art excuse the base cruelty of this film.

I am suspicious and mistrustful of the people who loved the movie; I have to come to terms with that in a very personal way. I have no tolerance for the abuse of children. I would have killed my father in that movie, as the oldest boy had the chance to do. He could have just nudged that jack, and dropped the car right on his father’s horrible chest, crushed the life and the abuse right out of him.

I would have done it, without hesitation. I was forced to decide last night, and by the time the boy walked away I had already committed the act in my heart. It was a terrible feeling, and I did nothing to deserve it. I didn’t know, going in, what the movie was about. I just trusted the people who said it was beautiful.

I don’t know how long it will last, but as of today I hate Terence Malick with a passion that I have exercised for few other humans. If I ever see him, I will kick him, very very hard, and tell him why. I wish I could physically strip him of his financing, his awards, and his sense of well-being. And let me tell you, it takes a lot for me to move to that place. Such needless weight has been laid on me; today I am a person with a heavy heart and a bruised soul, a person who has been asked to endure the loss of a child without knowing in a timely matter which child is gone, without understanding what happened and why he could not be saved. I have stood silent and ashamed as my husband threatened my children; I am just supposed to walk away from this and what? Have a nice swim? Chit-chat about beadwork? I hate horrible movies, I hate horrible people who hurt children.

Now comes the meticulous, unnecessary, time-wasting separation of reality from nightmare. Goddamn you, Terrence Malick, goddamn you to hell. And to anyone who recommends this movie to anyone else without warning them: what in fuck are you thinking? 

Wish me peace.

26 thoughts on “taken apart

  1. Kate, thank you for the warning. Someone who knew that I am survivor of incest said I would love Cider House Rules. I haven’t felt the same about the person since I saw the movie. No warning from her at all. What in fuck are you thinking, indeed. :( Wishing you peace from this emotional rape.

    • I do feel assaulted, actually, yes. And I’m sorry for what you went through.

      This one is particularly hard for me as it was my beloved husband, a gentle man, the father of my own sons, who wanted me to see it. He saw it alone and loved it in ways that I simply wasn’t able to access. So it was also heart-wrenching to come to terms with that. When the film ended, I just turned to him, and began to cry, deep, aching sobs just tore out of me, and I haven’t been what I’d call OK since. He was devastated at the pain it caused me, and I have forgiven him, and I understand in part what he found when he went alone.

      But my God, I wish I could go back in time, before I had to cross the lines that I did, to decide to kill, and to endure the loss of two children in a disconnected nightmare dream.

      Also. Both boys who died looked almost exactly like our golden, open sun-child, our youngest son.

      • I’ve had similar movie experiences with my husband Joshua, a film connoisseur. After a similar movie assault, I asked him, “How–why–are people willing to watch depictions of rape? How young does a victim have to be for it to be not ok? Preteen? Toddler?” I was furious. I know some believe that having elicited a powerful response means that a piece of art “works” on some level, but I don’t buy it. After such battery, mostly I’m disgusted that I subjected myself to it.

        A couple of years ago, Joshua asked me to watch an independent film recommended to him by a friend. Let’s just say that it involved a woman cutting off her own lips–I’m not making this up–for, I gather, her husband’s love and attention. Finally, a movie that not even Joshua could tolerate!

        There are many powerful, disturbing movies that don’t leave us disgusted in this way. What characterizes the difference?

        • So eloquently put… I was too freaked out (and angry) to be eloquent.

          As has been pointed out before, the abuse seemed hardly to register in some reviews of this movie. Do you know, I am quite sure I saw a whole raft of other fuckery that I can’t find mention of either. There was a dog that had been hurt by someone (possibly the oldest son of abuse) and it just showed in one scene, and he took the normal sort of chivvying of brother to brother a bit further than was OK with his younger brother. It was clear to us and clear to him that the cycle of anger and abuse was repeating in him already, even in his childhood. It was brutal. And I was sure that the mother had been raped by her father, too, but no one else seems to have thought that. Admittedly the sound was very low in the first half hour of the film in our theater, when she is introduced as a child.

          I know what you mean about film buffs. Bill is one, too, and loves Kubrick and Lynch (both of whose movies I dislike intensely)… he has a different sort of mind, and can easily sort Fact from Fiction (or he thinks he can…)

          Me, what I experience is what I remember, and so I try to choose wisely, as anything put into my psyche will remain, reverberating for days, weeks, or forever, depending on impact. Abuse, torture, and rape are things that I can acknowledge without ever witnessing. That’s for damned sure.

          I don’t know how to feel about Brad Pitt. After all, this was part his movie, and he played the abusive father. Sean Penn, who played the oldest boy (and only survivor) as an adult, said that he had no idea why Malick cut the film he did, or why it had to be such a confusing nightmare. I got the impression that he felt a little betrayed. But Brad Pitt, he knew exactly what he was making. Yet it was Malick I walked away hating.

          And thank you for saying that just because art damages us doesn’t mean it was great art. It only means it was damaging and awful; yet I find myself asking, “does this mean it was a great film, because I sobbed with gut-wrenching sorrow for 24 hours after enduring it?”
          Your assurance feels like a warm blanket after an accident, much appreciated.

          • I’ve been gnawing on this issue since yesterday. What does it mean when our life-long mates are willing to go to brutal places, in art and movies, that repulse us?

            We watch and accept movies depicting war atrocities . . . because we understand that our species is a war-waging one, I suppose. We recognize that what humans do is something we must face, digest, and somehow assimilate.

            If that’s true, do we have a responsibility to face down all human psychopathologies? If so, where do we draw the line? Should we be able to recline with our medium popcorn and watch the slow torture of adults? Teenagers? Preschoolers? Babies being born? Where do we draw the line? Is there value in “getting inside” such brutality for a short time?

            Perhaps when we’re young, there is some. We learn something about human behavior, and even if we didn’t want to know, we might feel that we should. But, once we’re fully formed–grown up–what is the value of these “immersions”? If we think none, is it because we already know that we live with known and unknown evil? That we don’t gain understanding or strength in spending more time with it? That it feels pornographic to visit those places? Or is it simply that we grasp the limits of the time we have on the planet and we’re selective about how we spend it?

          • I think a lot about these issues too, and you know, I don’t have anything intelligent to say about them. I do NOT watch war movies; I can’t think of a single thing I have to learn from war except that war is wicked, and wrong, and turns men into monsters. I can’t fathom taking enjoyment from the concept of war. Most boys, though, like battle at all levels.

            I don’t watch torture movies, horror films… I don’t like anything that depicts cruelty or torture. I do, however, watch Dexter. And Bones. And Law and Order. And I sort of look away from the violence. For me, those shows represent something really important to me, which is the triumph of Good Guys Over Bad Guys. I need to believe that justice isn’t an imaginary concept (even though it mostly is) and so I watch those shows to reassure myself. But they often depict people at their worst.

            I can’t parse all of this, and although I love people who love what I call “bad trip” movies, like everything David Lynch ever made, I hate it all with a passion. I loathe Kubrick, too, and he’s the favorite darling of many of my friends. Hell, I didn’t even like 2001.

            I like drugs but not drug imagery. I went to see (and liked) the movie Natural Born Killers. I can’t figure out where I draw my own lines, so I’m even more lost trying to understand those of others.

  2. I absolutely wish you peace. I read about this movie at IMDB and they make it sound pretty innocuous. I can’t take movies or books or tv shows about child abuse either. Out they go! Sorry about this one but I know not to go see it so that’s good! Peace to you, dear Kate.

  3. I know only a tiny bit about the film and have been hesitant. I am not a shy moviegoer but some topics are difficult for all of us. Hopefully, the film will bring to light for the unaware the consequences of harm to children – not just the immediate but the long lasting, all encompassing, and unending cost to the child and the people in the child’s future. The subject of child abuse, whether a one time or ongoing event, is one that most people like to shove under the rug unless and until they can make money from it. Let’s hope this film wakes up the spirit that can bring this horror to an end.

    I wish you peace, and peace to all of us who have been harmed by the unloving and the unable to love. I am reminded, however, that many of the unloving were, themselves, burned in the core of their souls by someone else who was unloving. Somewhere, it must end. In my life, and the lives of my siblings, our main goal was to stop the madness. We succeeded there. Hopefully, more and more of people impacted by this awful way of life will find their true center and end the madness for themselves.

    Based on what you said, I would have killed him also.

    I still remember the day I saw Schindler’s List. I left the theater with my friend and sighed. We avoided looking into each other’s eyes. I haven’t had a conversation with anyone – ever – about that movie. I was embarrassed on that day to be a human being.

  4. Oh Kate, I am so sorry for your pain. I DO so wish you peace & recovery from the emotional abuse of this film. And God bless you for sharing. You have saved me from seeing this film.

    • Thank you, Eileen. I can’t say how you would feel; many people were moved by it, and it has won awards. I can’t comprehend how a mother could see it and not go through hell, I guess that’s all I can say for sure.

  5. Thank you for the warning about this movie. I wish you some peace. This is a case for one of those little memory wipers from Men in Black. I read a story in the New York Times magazine about sexual slavery a couple of years ago that I wish I could unread for I now watch people with suspicion and worry about my daughter.

    • I did in fact wish for the drug that people are given after medical procedures, to erase twelve hours. It’s too late now; if I had had it last night I would have left the movie halfway through and taken it. As it was, I felt I had to see it to the end in case there was redemption. There was not.

  6. Thank you for the warning; I will not see this movie EVER, as I know I would have the same reaction you did. I don’t even handle children in cartoon peril well. I wish you peace – you have saved me from so much pain.

  7. Passion is a good thing. Such fiercely negative emotion over a movie is not very productive however. Let the movie go. There are more than enough things, both good and bad, in our daily world to express such strong conviction about.
    Breathe deep and may you find some Peace.

    • I’m happy for you (I guess) if you can separate experience out, so that books you read, films you see, or ideas you have do not have reality for you.

      Sadly, I am not that type of person.

  8. Just this morning I was complaining about the wretched, misbehaving children at a wedding I attended last Saturday. But even at my most curmudgeonly, I can’t imagine harming a child. Thanks for the warning. I will skip this movie. It doesn’t sound like a film experience I need. I’m like you that way – I can’t easily shake the emotion experience. On the plus side, the really good and inspiring experiences tend to stay with me as well as I’m sure they do with you.

    Be at peace, my sister. I think your post will save a lot of us.

  9. Oh thank you so much for posting your feelings and thoughts on this movie. I most assuredly would have gone to see it because I have seen the word “beautiful” to describe the movie over and over. I read that a lot of the audience walked out during the screening of the film at Cannes, but I never saw an explanation of why. Since so many viewers walked out, I was surprised to see that it had won the Palme d’Ore.

    I’m sorry that you will be stuck with the imagery of the film, but it sounds like it will stay with you for a while.

    Peace, peace, peace.

    • Thank you, love. It is, I think, the most walked-out-on film in recent history. I stayed only because I hoped that Malick would give me some understanding, perhaps a few more fucking facts, so I could move the experiences a little closer to things I could deal with. I was not rewarded, and do wish I had walked out. I’ve never done that before.
      It won the Palm d’Or for the usual reasons, I suspect- grandiose themes, a huge reputation, big stars… it’s a gorgeous pile of abuse; emotional, physical, and sensory.

  10. I can not EVER understand anyone who would EVER harm a child, let alone conceive a film that would EVER think of this as “art”, hell is way too good of final stop for these people.
    Kate, I only wish that angels whisper in your ear as you lay your head down each night until you find peace and your good heart is less heavy.
    If only all children had an impenetrable protective bubble that would keep that wonderful, trusting, unconditional love that flows through their veins and from their hearts flowing until they are able to understand that the world has “flaws”, I would maybe find the ability to trust myself. Children are a gift whose tender hearts and souls need to be cherished.

    Peace, Kate, today and every day.

    With love,


  11. I always wonder what effect making the movie like this has on the child actors involved. I worried for years about the young boy who was the feature character in Empire of the Sun. He was witness to so much mental and physical abuse through the plot of the film, and his mental breakdown at the end left him such a hollow shell of a boy in character; what well did he have to draw from in his young years to pull off such a performance?!

    I view this a as a sort of child abuse, in and of itself. Child endangerment, at the very least.

    I wish you and Bill peace, my friend.

    • Bill, damn him, was the one who wanted me to see it. Come to think of it, I guess he DOES need your well-wishes.
      I felt strongly what you wonder- the first scene that hinted of how awful the father was was when he was holding one of the little babies so tightly that it was struggling and crying, and I thought, “what kind of fucked up parent would take the money for a day’s work, to have their baby basically abused like that?” The other boys, well, they were older, and I guess I probably think that Brad Pitt is a gentle person, and they probably were never freaked out or frightened by the shoots. STILL. It was a loathsome film.

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