The Tree of Life: a note

On Thursday night, with two friends, an empty bladder, and with a very heightened sense of anticipation, I went to see Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It is a phenomenal film, and at some stage (for this film requires a number of viewings) I may post some thoughts about it, and about the experience of watching it on The Regent‘s massive screen. But not now. For now, I simply want to confess, particularly for the benefit of those who are yet-to-see-but-hope-to-see the film, that this is a film that demands and rewards some preparation, and, to that end, that I was glad that I had done some reading beforehand. Here’s some of what I found most helpful:

Since, I’ve also found this piece: The Tree of Life: a son of tears. And finally, this from David Bentley Hart:

The film, in fact, is brilliant, mesmerizingly lovely, and almost alarmingly biblical. Even if one is not enchanted (as I most definitely am) by Malick’s signature cinematic mannerisms, or by the fleeting hints of his more recondite intellectual preoccupations (Heidegger? Gnosticism? Buddhism? Russian Sophiology, perhaps?), surely one ought to recognize the ingenious subtlety of the scriptural allegories around which the film is built, and of the film’s meditations on the mystery of God’s silence and eloquence, and on innocence and transgression, and on the divine glory that shines out from all things.

Or so I was thinking as I drowsed there, warming my pelt in a pool of sunlight. Then, however, it occurred to me that perhaps, after all, these critics did have a kind of point. Oh, yes, The Tree of Life is profoundly, if mysteriously, scriptural—with its images of Eden, Cain and Abel, God speaking out of the whirlwind, divine Wisdom dancing at the heart of creation, Christ the man of sorrows, and so on—but is that sufficient to make it a truly Catholic film, at least of the sort these earnest critics so obviously crave? And I realized that probably it is not: It contains no pericopes from the catechism, no triumphant affirmations of papal primacy, no satisfying deathbed conversions, no heartwarming tableaux of the happy Catholic family warm in the embrace of Mother Church, no nuns, no Bing Crosby, no Italians …

One comment

  1. It does contain nuns: “The nuns taught us that there are two ways through life…the way of nature and the way of grace.”

    And it contains redundant scenes of heartwarming tableaux of the happy Catholic family, both at the dinner table and at church.


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