I recently watched the 1954 movie "Floating Weeds" by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu (a remake of one by the same title he had done about 20 years before). It was so good that I watched it again, this time with the commentary (by Roger Ebert) turned on. And in the commentary I struck with
By that comment, and based on other features of Mr. Ozu's works he points out during the commentary, I believe Mr Ebert means the camera tends to "just sit" -- it doesn't favor any particular point of view, it records what happens dispassionately, and the story itself just unfolds by itself. And by that last observation I think Mr Ebert means the movie isn't "driven" in the way more Western movies tend to be. Scenes tend to be long, whereas some Western "adventure" movies can average one edit -- one "jump-cut" -- per second. If characters finish the scene and walk off, the camera may very well just sit there and record the empty room for several more seconds -- which is a long time by Western cinematic standards, and during which we begin to expect that perhaps one or more of the characters are going to return shortly, or perhaps someone else is about to enter. But no one returns, no one else enters, and eventually the camera fades and the scene changes ... but only in its own time. Unlike most Western movies, but very much like Haiku poetry with its "pillow words," there are "pillow scenes" in Mr. Ozu's works: purely visual scenes (no "action") deliberately set between "action scenes" apparently for the sole purpose of allowing the viewer to meditate on what just happened, and on what might happen next.
Throughout both movies, people come and go, their very ordinary lives and very ordinary conversations unfold at their own pace, and "things just happen." But in the process of that slow, almost lackadaisical unfolding, the viewer is pulled in ... and almost before you know it, the very subtle story "has you" very much the way life itself does that for most of us. The ending of both movies are equally subtle and indefinite: something is going to happen next ... but what? You don't know. No one knows.
I'm not doing a good job of explaining the commentary, but maybe I've said enough so that you can begin to sense what Mr Ebert was talking about. I was so taken with the movie and the commentary, that I promptly rented another one -- "Tokyo Story," a black-and-white film from about 1953. And sure enough, Mr. Ebert seemed correct. This one had the same qualities, the same very-slow-but-very-sure pull into the story line: very very ordinary people, very very ordinary lives, very very ordinary talk ... things "just happening," unfolding just as they unfold ... but eventually the viewer has become deeply pulled into the story.
And here's the point: I was both astonished and delighted at how, precisely when "nothing much is happening," in fact everything is happening. The proof is in how the emotional/spiritual "weight" accumulates in the course of the movie. It definitely "sneaks up" on the viewer, and is most noticable at the end when the viewer feels so ... weightily ... all that is fading away.
In my case: when each movie ended, I found myself -- to my later surprise -- quietly shaking my head and whispering, repeatedly, "Wow." It was said with an almost inarticulate but quite distinct sense of awe, that my life had just been enriched almost without my having noticed it, or rather perhaps without my quite ever having understood why. When "nothing much is happening," everything is happening.
If I were to try to dialogue this back toward a Christian perspective, then from the Bible I suppose I'd suggest -- of all things! -- the "begats," those seemingly interminable geneaological lists in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, Genesis thru Deuteronomy). Those lists served to document and authenticate family lines for various purposes, mostly, it would seem, to verify which family lines were most directly related to the Levitical priesthood. However, it also has been pointed out that they may be the biblical storyteller's way of saying: Yahweh God's Original Vow (Genesis 1-3) is being carried out and fulfilled through the most mundane and ordinary of events -- people are born, they get married, they have children, they die. There is daily life, family life, very very ordinary people and their very very ordinary conversations and very very ordinary turns-of-events: nothing much. But just when when you fear that damned geneaology is going to go on forever (remember Rev. Lovejoy on "The Simpsons" reading some of the geneaologies? lol), and you're going to go to sleep for the next several hours just so you can miss it, it dawns on you:
Precisely when nothing very special is happening, everything is happening indeed.