The Tree of Life and a Theory of Everything

“Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth…When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:4, 7.

So begins Terrance Malik’s newest film, The Tree of Life. Great flick! The film is more about fleeting mood – from awe to near patricide and the subtle affective message of mood itself than any other narrative.

Except maybe the play of fundamental and in-our-face daily life. The beyond-words wonder of the cosmos … and the horror of the death of a child.

Malik put’s us in the body of a human – the ten-year-old boy, the father, the mother – and there we are in the midst of creation … suffering and confused. Wandering aimlessly in wind-swept deserts or in cities of glass and steel.

A. O. Scott in the NYTimes (here for that) compares Mallick’s work with the great American authors:

This movie stands stubbornly alone, and yet in part by virtue of its defiant peculiarity it shows a clear kinship with other eccentric, permanent works of the American imagination, in which sober consideration of life on this continent is yoked to transcendental, even prophetic ambition. More than any other active filmmaker Mr. Malick belongs in the visionary company of homegrown romantics like Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and James Agee. The definitive writings of these authors did not sit comfortably or find universal favor in their own time.

The Tree of Life points to right here as the unfolding of wonder. Not as an escape from pain, but as the speck of dust in which the whole works unfolds.

Speaking of which (right here is it, that is), how about that Michele Bachman? Riots in London? Credit ratings?

If you want to understand all that in a surreal, Tree of Life, fleeting-kind-of way, here Thomas Friedman’s summary of his recent opinion piece, “A Theory of Everything (Sort of)…” 

So let’s review: We are increasingly taking easy credit, routine work and government jobs and entitlements away from the middle class — at a time when it takes more skill to get and hold a decent job, at a time when citizens have more access to media to organize, protest and challenge authority and at a time when this same merger of globalization and I.T. is creating huge wages for people with global skills (or for those who learn to game the system and get access to money, monopolies or government contracts by being close to those in power) — thus widening income gaps and fueling resentments even more.

In conclusion, here’s William Carlos Williams’ final words in his introduction  to Ginsberg’s “Howl:” 

Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.

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  • Barry

    You know, I sorta hated the movie. Especially the "nature" footage that looked ripped-off from PBS. At first I thought that Malik was adding abstract heft to a moving story, but when I realized he was only telling the Christian story of creation, complete with compassionate dinosaurs, I just got irritated.But, that said, the performances by the mother and the oldest boy, riveted me to the seat. These two actors have delivered the finest performances I've seen on-screen in many years. And that makes this a wonderful film, at least for me.

  • Dosho Port

    I thought Brad did a fine job being a dad of that era too and Sean can do "lost!" The Christian-ish theology seemed to part of the way we struggle for answers where answers cannot be found … And it bugged me at first too. But then I came to see it as just part of the show. Substitute a Buddhist cosmology and appeals to Kannon and you've got pretty much the same thing.Finally no accounting for taste!


    A very moving film, one from the Judeo-Christian framework but as Dosho Port pointed out a Buddhist framework would easily fit. I also agree with Barry in this movie has some incredible acting, very unlike most movies these days. The commentary on society is all too real and from viewing some government reactions to protest, Hell could very well be where we are heading. I have found it interesting that Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin have both raised the definition of living people to include corporations. Such madness, what living being could stand on equal footing with a corporation. Perhaps that is the point, there will be no equality.