All this is done—as it happens with all of us—in everyday interactions between Jack, his brother, and his parents that are significant to Jack, but perhaps not even remembered by the others. The acting is so effortless, it feels like spying on a family unaware of someone watching. Malick surely deserves credit in directing his cast to capture babies and children so naturally and truthfully.
A scope so epic cannot be addressed by linear thinking. Although there is a story, the film dwells on images and ideas as much as on happenings. It imagines the Big Bang and the holy process of evolution in ancient seas, slowly revealed in breathtaking images as choirs sing amazing music. It lives with sounds: the rush of wind in the trees, the roar of flowing water, the thump of a beating heart. It pictures conception as a mother beckoning a beloved child into a garden. As it asks deep questions, it glories in the joy of life. Nearly every frame is carefully crafted, full of imagery and meaning. Most could be hung alone on the wall as art.
The film heavily echoes passages from the Bible, from Job and St. Paul among others, but does it in such a way that you realize these prayers are common cries of humanity: "Why? Where were You?" and "I hate the things I do."
Like the atmosphere of a great cathedral, the weight of the film can only be endured for a while. One emerges quietly tired, feeling full and satisfied, and somehow enlarged. That's not a feeling we often feel when we walk away from a movie. Perhaps we should expect to more often.