Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nature and Grace Conflict in Malick's The Tree of Life

I am someone who believes that every movie Terrence Malick ever made has been a complete masterpiece. I have consistently, for the last decade, said that The Thin Red Line is the greatest movie ever made, and I have not backed off on that claim. (By the way, Fox Searchlight - lets consider giving that movie the Bluray treatment, please!) For years and years I had been reading about the development of the script for his new film The Tree of Life, and to me it has always sounded like the most quintessentially 'Malick' movie that Malick has ever made. What I thought might interest our readers about the project is this prevalent theme - both in the trailer and in the film's synopsis - of nature and grace in conflict.

Here is the official synopsis for the film:
From Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick’s signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.
The way that the movie appears to set nature against grace is interesting, but judging from some things I've read from the elusive Malick in other places, it appears that the movie is set to bring nature and grace together, concluding in some respect that brute nature is unendurable apart from grace and forgiveness. It does appear that forgiveness is an integral part of the storyline.

As with all of Terrence Malick's movies, don't expect this to be a straightforward polemic advocating one specific view of the universe (as an example, Jesus probably won't be making an appearance; but neither will Buddha or Mohammed). Rather, it has always appeared to me that Malick's films are designed to cause the audience to interact with the story, to consider what they're seeing, and think about the nature of the universe. His films always cause me, for example, to think about and reflect on the pain, brevity, and beauty of life, as well as to glorify God for the short time he has given us, seeing every moment as the gift that it is. I'm looking forward to offering my thoughts on this beautiful film on May 28th, God-willing - the day after it hits theatres. It will not get here too soon.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I hated Thin Red Line. I don't care for "edgy" films. Sean Penn's loathing of the United States didn't help.


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