Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tree of Life 1

There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace.

Grace doesn't try to please itself.  Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked.  Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself.  Gets others to please it too.  Likes to lord it over have its own way.  It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it, and love is smiling through all things.

They taught us that none who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

I will be true to You.  Whatever comes.

Thus begins Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, in which he artistically - through magnificent images and cinematography - yet very overtly - through the voices of his characters - asks some of life's most difficult questions.  Where is God...that One whose majesty, glory, and power are revealed in His creative works?  Why doesn't He intervene when tragedy befalls the faithful?  Is He there?  Does He know?  Who are we to Him?   Why does He hurt us? 

Malick's motives, belief statements, and artistry have been both acclaimed and ridiculed, and a variety of interpretations have been assigned to the film's deeper meaning.  It seems to me that the majority of these interpretations have minimized, if not entirely ignored, the film's opening statements, which colored my interpretation of everything that followed, as I suspect they were intended to.  The initial screenshot highlights this text from Job 38:

"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

This is crucial to understanding the film.  The dichotomy of belief and experience is the thread of continuity throughout.  The God who laid the very foundations of this unbelievably magnificent earth appears to stand idly by while the crowns of his creation suffer loss and grief.  A sermon from Job holds a prominent place in the movie and creates a crisis of faith - again juxtaposing man's beliefs about God with his finite perspective and experience.  One of the central characters, the eldest of three adolescent sons, cries out poignantly to God, "You let a boy die.  You let anything happen.  Why should I be good if You aren't?"

The movie succeeds in portraying the soul's inner, often unspoken, struggle to reconcile faith and experience.  The characters' experiences aren't always negative either.  We see astonishing expressions of love and grace...mostly astonishing because Malick makes them stand out as extraordinary even though they come in and through the very ordinary means  of daily life.  Simple daily interactions have the power to transform lives.  For example, in keeping with Proverbs, we see through the contrast of the mother and father's words to their sons that "a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness therin is a wound to the spirit."  This is only one of several allusions to the Tree of Life.  More on that in another post...hopefully.

The breathtaking visuals (if you have the patience to endure long sequences of images coupled by a complete absence of traditional plot and character development), and the sparse, yet powerful, words, are joined to a dynamic soundtrack which sheds significant light on each scene's symbolism.  (Let me warn you here that the CD titled as the soundtrack, contains a score composed for, but rarely used in, the actual movie.  Here is a comprehensive listing of what you actually heard...or will hear.)

I will go so far as to suggest that the scattering of pieces from The Requiem are not only fitting and telling, but may well regulate the overarching structure of the film.  At the very least, there is a correlative movement from judgement and pleas for mercy to an everlasting day of light, rest and communion.

I'll leave it at that for now, recognizing that the artistic, poetic, theological, musical, philosophical, familial, as well as other themes remain largely unaddressed.  After a single viewing, I am entirely inadequate to effectively address all of those layers!  I hope to say more after multiple viewings as well as input from others.

I do encourage you to watch it, and as you do, keep in mind during the creation scene (which has been hailed as a glorious testament to Darwinism) that the lyrics playing in the background are from The Requeim's Lacrimosa:

"Mournful that day when from the ashes shall rise guilty man to be judged.  Lord, have mercy on him.  Gentle Jesus, grant him eternal rest."

To learn more about the film's content from a decent review that is helpful without being very theological or too philosophical, go here.  This will give you an idea of the film's story, which I have completely ignored in this post.

Then...let me know what you think of the film, please!  And feel free to completely dismantle my interpretation!

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