Life on the Precipice


Every day in Los Angeles is another disaster waiting to happen. Whether it’s a massive semi-pileup in a tunnel or a wildfire consuming much of Malibu, some calamity is always befalling this idyllic city. The other night I was driving on Santa Monica Blvd and had to swerve to miss two trees that had been blown over by the wind and were now splayed out across two lanes of the road. Just another routine life-threatening obstacle on the roadways of SoCal!

Indeed, it’s a pretty remarkable thing to survive even a day in this loose-cannon of a city. It’s only by the grace of God that any of us get through. And it’s not just L.A. Life is pretty catastrophic anywhere you live… and at any moment we are all equally at risk of being attacked, crashed into, exploded, derailed, poisoned, maimed, or burgled (it’s happened to me!).

Okay, so this is all very macabre and dour. Yes. But the point is that life is lived continually on the brink. Ours is an existence of a precarious balance between life and death, mortality and immortality, good and bad, etc. But it’s a situation that should not be feared; because it cannot be avoided. Perhaps we should embrace it in a way: tune our personal pulse to the dynamic dualism of a damaged, yet redeemable, world.

Part of the reason why I love the films of Terrence Malick is because I feel that he articulately expresses this dualism through a uniquely poetic mode of artistry. In each of his films there is both beauty and ugliness, joy and tragedy—the best and worst of man, and the best and worst of nature.

In his film Days of Heaven, which releases today on Criterion Collection (click here for an essay I recently wrote about the film), this “precarious balance” idea is gorgeously embodied. This is a film that pulsates with the warring forces that rage beneath the surface in man and nature, even while evoking a quiet, painterly, elegiac mood.

If only our day-to-day dealings with omnipresent chaos could be so elegant…

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