The Tree of Life

02Oct11

I know I said a lot about The Tree of Life back in July when I first saw it, but given what a mess my reaction turned out to be, duly reflected in the structure and substance of my ‘review,’ I hope you’ll forgive me for returning to it here after a second viewing, if only for a brief but absolutely necessary reaffirmation of its magic. Hopefully, however, I will now be able to shed light on this, rather than merely insisting on it and invoking the film’s apparent ineffability.

Just look at that still, and soak up the divinity wrapped up in its aesthetics. To watch The Tree of Life is to see a film in which every frame is packed with the influence of the Holy Spirit. Not a single scene fails to tell us very loudly why Malick is unashamedly Christian. You may listen to Priests harp on about the presence of God throughout nature all day long, but it’s not until you see this film that the meaning of the claim is brought to life. That every organism and natural phenomenon is part of a teleology sounds crackers, but Malick makes it at least temporarily look obvious to us. It’s like we put on his metaphysical glasses and all of a sudden it is absurd to see chaos and disorder in the world, rather than the intrinsic beauty he believes in and captures so well.

For me, despite my unshakeable atheism, what was so overwhelming this time was an appreciation of just how far Malick can take us into the Christian mindset, and even when one retains and tries to keep clear one’s background beliefs, several moments stand out as spiritual experiences for even the strongest of skeptics. When those evolutionary sequences to rival Planet Earth footage fade out and we hone in on just one family – one set of lives in the midst of this incredible universe – those scenes of a toddler’s feet beginning to find their step, and the footage of the children playing so blissfully in fields, when accompanied by the soaring soundtrack must send shivers down the stiffest of spines. The same goes for the final, prophetic visions of a kind of Resurrection and Judgement Day, which again make what in the past were throwaway words and concepts burst into vibrant life.

As I said before, this is not a film. It is all shot so delicately, so touchingly, that there really is no other way of describing it except as a swooning, visual poem. And experiencing awe and wonder at a film’s appearance is surely a sufficiently rare and special feeling that when it happens, it is worth championing.

In this respect, though, The Tree of Life is not an original. Where it is a first for me lies in its ability to convey a religious attitude and secure sincere respect for it. I’m willing to bet that no other film I will ever see will manage this remarkable achievement.

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3 Responses to “The Tree of Life”

  1. Well…that’s very interesting. Thank you!
    Maybe I should check out this movie.
    Do you know where can I find it?

    Peace, UT

    • 2 jacobwilliamson

      Are you American? If so I doubt it’s in cinemas anymore, but it should be on sale on DVD pretty soon.

  2. FANTASTIC article. thank you for writing.


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