A few nights ago, I finally had the chance to watch The Tree of Life, the Terrence Malick film that released last year.
I’ve heard or read quite a few reports from people who hated the movie. As the Amazon ratings indicate, it’s a fairly divisive piece of work. You love it or you hate it.
I loved it and here’s two reasons:
The Tree of Life is a liturgy.
Much of the film is narrated from the perspective of a child as he approaches adolescence, fraught with questions about life and meaning. The script, the imagery, and the cinematography lead you through a sort of guided and experimental liturgy. The Tree of Life pans from a drawn-out creation sequence to the zoomed-in experiences of parenting and childhood and, ultimately, back to a big picture view where the totality of one’s life is gathered together at “the end of things.” As you watch the movie, you’re prompted to follow along with and respond to the images, experiences, and questions guiding the movie.
The Tree of Life asks open-ended questions.
Life is easier when questions are closed: when there’s a fixed set of possible responses and one simply has to choose between them. It makes things simple, easy, and quick. But life is not simple, easy, or quick. There are few questions that are truly closed off or limited to just a few responses. The narrated monologue of The Tree of Life is almost entirely open-ended questions about life’s biggest questions – and the movie does not answer them in a finite, limited way. Instead, you’re invited (or forced!) to wrestle with these questions, searching your own life experiences and relationships for the answers.