Monday, February 5, 2007

A Movie... and a Hike

About halfway through "BABEL" I wondered what I was doing there. By the time the film ended, I understood why I had stayed. It's a wrenching movie, with violence at its core. Knowing little about it before seeing it, I was ready for some harmless escapist fare.

What I got was something far more difficult. It's about human beings caught in the act of being human--in the most dire of all imaginable circumstances.

It's about bad things happening to good people, and about bad people's cold indifference to them. It's about the consequences of mindless action, about random acts of violence and calculated cruelty. It's about love and hatred, the results of fear and anger and mistrust, about guilt and innocence, official heartlessness and individual compassion.

It's about the agony of loss and grief, and the mad, occasional ecstasy of letting go all inhibitions. It's about the joys and fears around human sexuality, about defensiveness and vulnerability. It's about the difference between races, cultures, and religions--and about their interdependence. It's about the shared identity of the human species.

It's about being out on the edge and the fear of falling off it, about the brutal imminence and randomness of death in the midst of life. It's a film brimming with the everyday tragedy and folly of human existence--what Balzac called the "Comedie Humanine." It's about the way we butt up against each other in the strangest and most difficult of ways, how we stroke each other--and rub each other the wrong way.

It's also about language (the "babble" of human voices) and the ways in which we communicate with each other, about the limitations and the failures of communication that produce sometimes dreadful results.

"Babel"'s director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrita, has done a powerful job in confronting us with the complexity, the contradictions, and the suffering of ordinary people in the world. He also celebrates the nobility and selflessness of which we are capable at times of stress. An outstanding movie.


After watching "Babel" on Saturday night, a completely different experience on Sunday morning: our sangha took that silent meditation hike I mentioned earlier. We gathered first at Eva's home, where we meet for our usual Sunday morning sit, and carpooled inland some forty minutes through the endless suburban developments of Orange County, finding ourselves finally beyond it all in the wilderness area of the old Irvine Ranch now protected by the Nature Conservancy. After a few words of introduction to the flora and fauna of this natural environment, we double-filed on our four-mile, silent expedition into the back country, ending our trek--a small group at a time--at the dark, lovely grotto that is aptly named Dripping Springs. Here, water sifts over decades through the rock before reaching the mossy surface of the grotto, where it makes myriad small, intricate paths down between leafy ferns and the exposed roots of trees to drip, finally, in a musical pattern of gentle sound, into a clear pool tinged with an otherworldly violet hue. I thought of a Chinese landscape painting reinvented in glistening resin by the artist Jacci ten Hartog and then reclaimed by nature as her own...

A couple of poems. The first is "High."


(With thanks to Jerry and Eva and our other guides for all the joy you brought us...)

... on the limestone
canyon wall, a pair
of turkey vultures roosts
on the dead branch
of a tree that clings,
forlorn, to the rock
face. One languid flap,
two, and the first
is airbourne, drifting
out over the canyon.
The second follows,
circling in behind, Soon,
above, new arrivals:
two red-tailed hawks,
soaring, undercarriage
catching the light against
an azure sky, speculating
the territory. Then,
out of the leafy, dark
undergrowth below,
a shower of golden
sycamore leaves, caught
by a sudden gust, flung
out into the light. They,
too, catch the updraft,
like the birds, spiraling
as they rise easily
a hundred feet, more,
flashing, high. All
nature seems heaven-
bound this morning:
we humans only stand,
rooted, and gaze in awe.

The second, shorter:

Thanks, motorcyclists,
for teaching me, from far,
what silence is about.


Jerry K said...

Really enjoyed your posting about the movie and the hike. Yes - the vultures, hawks and leaves flying in the updraft left me in awe too. So does the length of time and the path that the water takes to ultimate drip into Dripping Springs.
I've heard good things about Babel, but after reading your description, I really want to see it now!

PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you, Jerry! Hope you'll stop by from time to time! Cheers, PaL