By: Matthew Kerwin
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together?” Job 38: 4,7
Imagine a film without a concrete beginning or ending, instead a series of vignettes, a kaleidoscope of images and ideas where you can come in and pick up at any point and create any story you want. This film is about life–yours, mine, your friends, or neighbors. It is bountiful – in the sense that has something to give to anyone—- if one is willing to indulge themselves in the viewing process. You must let down your defenses, your inhibitions and enter Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” a film not meant to be watched, but experienced.
Malick ‘s stylistic approach is philosophical– above and beyond the rest of Hollywood. He is the master of unrelated narratives and poetic grandeur; when nature, image and sound are brought from the foreground while plot, dialogue and character are reeled back.
On paper this film seems straightforward– A family with three boys growing up in the 1950s from a small Texas town. But in context it is an honest flow of memories from Jack, the eldest boy’s point of view and his loss of innocence while struggling with the death of his older brother. We are implanted into Jack’s most intimate memories. Memories that evoke, pain, suffering, resentment, regret, disappointment, love, happiness, innocence, growth, triumph, desire. In actuality, the family was merely a vessel for Malick to paint a bigger picture about the meaning of life and why we are here. The film itself invites the viewer to dissect life from its most outer shell, to reflect on the purpose of our existence while surrounded by an infinite, powerful and magnificent universe. We humans find it complex to come to terms with it all, habitually relying on religious faith in order to come to terms with our own life and death. For nature is merciless. It does not care If we suffer or pray — It is indifferent, unaffected by human emotion. “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.” While life can bring overwhelming pain and suffering, part of the secret of life is expanding our love through grace or nature. The question is: Which one will you follow?