The Tree of Life

I saw Terence Malick‘s The Tree of Life this morning. This will obviously be a controversial film; it already is, having won the Palme d’Or at Cannes after getting some boos from audiences there. But its opening in North America should throw this controversy into relief.

My take on the film is probably going to be different than many. As an atheist, I bypass—with relative ease—the religious mumbo-jumbo that is the film’s real weakness. I tend to agree with Roger Ebert when he writes, “The only other film I’ve seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.” That film was about the evolution of intelligence; this one is about the evolution of connection.

I don’t think The Tree of Life succeeds near as well as Kubrick’s film. But that was one of the greatest films of all time (I often wonder why 2001 has never really been emulated). This is more than a valiant effort, and as such it flies in the face of most films.

The way in which The Tree of Life collects together a number of moments in the life of the central characters, unencumbered by the need to move a plot forward as the central device, is its strength and the source of its impact. Life is a long arc; there are no convenient major plot points every few days or months. The story and the insight is completely in the moments between. I grew up in the shadow of the era depicted in the film, but I’ve spent all my time since in cities—not unlike Jack—and this may still be the mode suburban people live in still.

These moments are captured or evoked beautifully, through great acting and sometimes astonishing cinematography. The film is generous enough to give you time to think. That is rare.

And the way of nature versus the way of grace? I think it’s conscious human effort and love that makes the difference, but ultimately we are nature and “god” of course has nothing to with it.

There’s not much more to say; in many ways The Tree of Life defies description. Just go see it.

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