Sunday, January 8, 2012

No True Forgetting?

A basic principle of Freudian thinking is that there is no true forgetting; every experience we have leaves some sort of trace.

I found this statement, by a type of coincidence that often occurs in my life, in an article (by Adam Kirsch) the same day I watched a film, in this case the remarkable documentary by Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The topic: cave paintings in southwestern France, discovered only in 1994, that contain the world's oldest examples of human art: 32,000 years old, at least. Herzog takes us inside the Chauvet cave and shows the images of horses, bison, and other animals in a kind of motion, comparing the technique to that of cinema.

"Images are memories of long-forgotten dreams," Herzog says in his narrative. I wish he had expounded on this idea. But he asks, Was this the beginning of the human soul? He explains that by "soul" he means the need for communication of one human with another. One of the French scientists interviewed wonders if we should change the term Homo sapiens to Homo spiritualis because man does not know; he is often lost in wonder and mystery.

This is an intriguing and important idea about the limitations of reason and science and the inherent human longing for connection and communication that we call spirituality. And this documentary leaves us thinking about the relation between the art of the earliest man to religious concepts, including music (since 40,000-year-old flutes have been unearthed.)

It's a film that could have been longer,to my taste, with more discussion of the mystical implications of these ancient images. A movie I saw recently, too, was even more unforgettable: The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick, which I would not want to be any longer but which I must see again.

I would need several of these posts to explore the riches of this amazing, original, and beautiful film. It resembles a slowly unfolding prayer, with a profusion of images and half-whispered dialogue that ventures into the spiritual, the religious, and the mystical. I can think of no American film to put the existence of God at the center of its story and to suggest that at the heart of life are deep mysteries and universal images (archetypes) that we find in dreams.

Both of these films, in their very different ways, raise timeless questions that are beyond all knowing. Both are testaments to the term "Homo spiritualis."

1 comment:

Gerry said...

I love Malick's "The New World" and play it often. "The Tree of Life" really didn't do anything for me.