Friday, June 1, 2012


I just feel like I'm...bumping into walls - Sean Penn (The Tree Of Life)

Usually when someone sees a scene in a movie that KINDA reminds them of something in their own personal life they go: "oh man, that is SO my life" or "that's totally me." But 9 times outta 10 they're overdoing it and just wanna relate to something in a movie so that they can feel cool. Even as much as I love movies VERY RARELY do I see a scene that reminds me of something in my own life. Last time I checked they haven't made any biopics on left handed, diabetic, djing, autocad drafting, kidney transplant recipients with odd mannerisms and an unhealthy fascination for cinema. Even the scene of discussion doesn't even fully relate to me. For those of you who haven't seen The Tree Of Life or this specific scene in particular, a lot of Sean Penn's angst has to do with the loss of his brother which still haunts him (I imagine this scene probably works on an even deeper level for Penn as he lost his brother in real life not too long ago). I'm an only child so I don't know anything about the loss of a sibling and would never try to relate anything in my life to something like that. But what does standout to me is the setting (some kind of an architectural or design firm) along with Sean Penn's aimless/disoriented wandering through his office full of marked up & redlined drawings that look like they're in their 80th revision and probably have 80 more future revisions to go before the job even goes in to production. For those of you who don't know me well, I'm not crazy about my career and often find myself questioning why I do what I do. I spend the majority of my work day thinking about movies or music while my desk is covered under highlighters, bad sketches and floor plans. I think a big part of the reason as to why I've stayed in my field for so long is because I went through one of the toughest undergrad programs (architecture) and cant just give up after all the work I did for five years.

It’s kinda difficult to make out what Sean Penn is saying in this scene (and throughout most of the movie in general) because all he does is mumble. But the one line that does stick out at around 2:52 is: "I just feel like I'm bumping into walls". Naturally this is a line that just about any human being can relate too, but in the world of design I don’t know if there's a better tagline. When you graduate from school with a design-oriented degree you seriously think that at age 22 or 23 you're gonna be designing skyscrapers and have articles written about you in Architectural Digest. But in reality you're measuring staircases, making sure the hallway or corridor you design is wheelchair accessible, renovating kitchens or trying not to get thrown under the bus by one of your co-workers. And even if you are lucky enough to be part of a team that does design a building you can’t really do what you want because of all the codes you have to follow. I don’t know about you guys but that sounds like "bumping in to walls" to me. This scene also brings up envy (lol) - even though I'm not crazy about design or what I'd do, I would kill to work in an office like Sean Penn's office in The Tree Of Life. The imagery in this scene has some of the best looking architectural shots since Lodge Kerrigan's last two films...

These are all the thoughts and feelings that this particular scene brings up inside of me. Its that subconscious link between cinema and architecture (two things that encompass a big part of my life) that few filmmakers have been able to show. When I watch this scene I'm reminded of the time when in a few short months I crossed paths with three completely different filmmakers (Karim Ainouz, John Carluccio and Apichatpong Weerasethakul) who all studied architecture in school but moved on to film instead. Was this just a coincidence? Was some spiritual being or higher power trying to tell me something about what I should really be doing with my life? What is it that makes architecture & design suck so much that turns people towards film? In a way this is partially what The Tree Of Life is about - Random thoughts, questions and the subconscious. And in my opinion this scene highlights that and its proof that the movie is a success.

Architecture/Design/Space Planning/Urban Planning/etc can be a pretty stressful field. You're either always stressed out about the insane amount of work you have on your plate combined with the ridiculous deadline you have to complete it by.'re stressed out about the LACK of work you have sitting at your desk for 9 hours with nothing to do. And when you’re jaded & cynical it’s even worse because you have to force yourself to care about something you couldn’t give two shits about. I know this applies to many jobs out there but in the world of design it’s dangerous because there's a lot of money at stake (money you won’t be seeing any time soon) and its easier for mistakes to be made. What’s also frustrating is the misconception most people have about the world of architecture and design. I can’t tell you how many times I've grit my teeth or clinched my fist inside my pocket after hearing someone say; "oh you must be making the big bucks, huh?" I know they mean well but at the same time I just wanna casually say; "shut the fuck up."
Terrence Malick strikes me as someone who's never stepped foot inside of an architecture studio or design firm as he comes off like someone who'd be more at home in a field of weeds chasing butterflies. Yet he somehow "gets it" in this scene. I think many of us in this field have had the very same "what am I doing?" or "what does it all mean?" phone conversation (usually with a peer or someone we went to school with) that Sean Penn is having in this scene. I'd love for these moments in the video below to be turned in to a feature film. I know this won’t be happening any time soon because Terrence is currently working on two new films at the same time (and editing a third film). But maybe this blog entry will cause some kind of a cosmic butterfly effect that gets him to make his next film about Architecture (although that probably won’t happen). But until that cosmic moment happens we still have Peter Greenway's Belly Of An Architect (a possible blog entry for July)...


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