In Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, we embark on a journey of life/death/faith/macro and micro cosmos. With stunning visuals enhanced by lush musical scoring, this strange trip into our mysterious universe is worth more than one viewing. In questioning faith, setting the tone in the beginning of the film by offering two paths – grace, the path of love and nature, the path of desire –we hear the mother and the son’s prayers asking God: “Who are we to you? Who is this mystery in whom we live and move and have our being? Why should we be good if evil is a part of God?” In the beginning and in the end, in the ocean, in the fields and at home, love is the bridge. Scene transitions from one perspective to the next often show water falling, rolling in waves, lapping ashore, cuing emotional and physical sensibilities. If you can imagine a cross between Koyaanisqatsi and To Kill a Mockingbird, filmed ala Stanley Kubrick (what do you think your’e doing Dave?) then you start to get the flavor of this ambitious, soulful (some say pretentious) film.
I invoke the specter of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” another classic summer film that keeps the camera focused on the feelings and expressions of Scout and Jem, although Mr. O’Brien was certainly no Atticus Finch. The feeling of summer, the intimate view of the family – kids in the fields, in bed with the curtains blowing, playing in the water – was brought home by the camera’s proximity to the skin and expression of the characters. All the children were exceptional, particularly Jack and his middle brother, R.L. Jack’s struggle, as he grapples with his family legacy of grace (mother) and nature (father) is a poignant coming of age story, still playing out in middle age as he remembers his gifted brother, who died at 19 and is still dearly missed by his family. In reading about Terrence Malick’s brother’s suicide, this bit of autobiographical backdrop to Jack’s struggle with faith in the film becomes very moving. Rather than the moral dilemma of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Tree of Life poses an existential question. It does so with elegance, with excess and with much tenderness. The phenomenal cosmic and natural portrayals of a universe of stars, suns, microbes, planets and our biosphere opens the mind to the unfathomable truth of who we are as humans among a vast array of beings, some much greater and others lesser, or are they?
As I watched “Tree of Life“ I considered weaving my impressions into a poem based on meditative imagery during the yoga posture of Savasana and
Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Fifth Agreement, which suggests a blueprint for moving beyond the world we have been conditioned to create (hell) into a world of authenticity (heaven). Shedding the skin made of lies we’ve been told and pass along until Judgment Day, when we render our last judgment and move fully into acceptance of ourselves and others – fully into life. This take on Judgment: giving up our inner Judge/Victim dialogue is much preferred to the “Hell hath no fury like God scorned” more commonly served up for popular consumption.
The Five Agreements:
1. Be impeccable with your word – what you say is what you will create
2. Don’t take anything personally – everyone’s life movie is different
3. Don’t make assumptions – spinning lies does no good
4. Always do your best – create heaven, not hell
5. Be skeptical, but learn to listen – use doubt as a tool and wait for the truth to reveal itself
I recommend both The Tree of Life and The Fifth Agreement. Despite our cultural and economic depression we have the capacity to create and honor a world that expresses the power of love.