my review: the tree of life

[voice over] The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

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

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To 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.

The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

I will be true to you. Whatever comes.

thus starts terrence malick’s latest film, “the tree of life”. it is one of the most ambitious films i’ve ever seen, it is also one of the most profound and visually poetic. i can best describe it as a broad, panoptic slice of life where malick gets to isolate each layer and collage it back together, in order to partake of its multi-dimensional flavors. an individual life is a series of recollections and malick offers us some beautiful memories – fleeting moments, gestures, visions, sounds and silences merge in random, lyric ways.

this reconstitution of childhood, memory by memory, is mixed with larger questions about life and death, god and the universe. we r treated to spectacular imagery recounting the story of life on earth, from meteoric collisions to volcanic eruptions and cascades of water. pre-cellular life transforms before our eyes into more and more complex organisms until we r regaled with incredibly alive, watchful dinosaurs. this entire sequence is overlaid with hushed questions asked of god:

where were u? u let a boy die. u let anything happen. why should i be good when u aren’t. what r we to u?

it’s a terrific audio-visual blend of metaphysics and the infinite depth and breadth of what we imagine to be god’s manifestation.

the film also explores the binding relationship b/w parents and children and between life and death. there is a moving scene at the end where time seems to collapse – past, present, life, death all come together in a beautiful dance of grace. that resolution provides the final release in the film and the beginning of peace. perhaps that’s malick’s way of warning us about the limits of linear thinking. rather than look at life thru a pinhole and try to establish cause and effect relationships, perhaps it would be useful to open the door and embrace everything at once.

the tree of life