I took a small break from daily writing because of a busy work week and my mother visiting. During that week David and I finally did what we’d been talking about doing for years – had a first official “film club” gathering. At that gathering, we made a unique and inspiring new friend. He writes film reviews professionally, but even more impressive than that is that this practice started when, at 9 years old, while driving home from a movie with his dad and glowing about how much he loved it, his dad suggested he write down why. He’s written a film review of every single movie he’s watched since then.
Yesterday I revisited this new friend’s favorite film, Tree of Life. I have loved others of director Terrence Malick’s poetic, sweeping works, but don’t clearly remember my first impression of the film that many consider his masterpiece. Tree of Life came out in 2011 and Roger Ebert compares its “boldness of vision” to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I don’t want to go to far over my 10 minute writing rule, so I will keep my second impressions brief.
What a wonderful film to choose when dusting off a long-neglected film habit. No other film easily comes to mind that considers such huge themes – existence, life, love, grace, God/the immortal, childhood – in such a generous, beautiful, and simple way. It’s classic Malick – beautiful shots that seem almost effortless and meditative, much of nature. Sparse dialogue. Poetic snippets of narration. But the overall effect is extremely evocative to the patient and sensitive viewer.
What is our place in this vast universe? Why are we here? How should we live? The viewer has a beautiful backdrop to consider these questions, and they are answered only as satisfactorily as life answers them for any of us, through any of our lives.
The film feels like a gentle and considered autobiography, set in 1950s middle America. We catch glimpses of grown-up and societal strife as children do, crashing into moments with immediacy yet preserving their mystery. Mother and Father are two yin and yang forces of nature as real and true as the signature shots of nature Malick imbues all of his films with. And their qualities wrestle within their children in a way our parents wrestle within all of us.
Beautiful, powerful, poetic, sweep, deeply personal yet generous enough to be universal. The final scenes with the ethereal Jessica Chastain had me in tears, though it took a second viewing and open mind to appreciate the abstract final shots. Final personal takeaways: The way to happiness is love. And also the path to the eternal is through grace.