May 25, 2011


Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. In a good way. A very good way. If you’ve seen the transcendent, intriguing trailer, you probably thinking: “I hope the movie is as good.” Well it’s very in keeping with the trailer and way better than it. “Tree of Life” is simply one of the most extraordinary films ever made. Or maybe you were thinking: “I still don’t know what it’s about!” You’re in for a rare, rare treat. A film of this stratospheric caliber comes along every, oh, twenty years or so. Malick has broken some kind of film barrier. He has found away to substantially un-limit, un-fetter, and set film free.

[By the way, “Tree of Life” is a perfect Father’s Day film.]

Terrence Malick portrays a family of three boys (the story is narrated by the eldest, Jack, played with preternatural talent by newcomer Hunter McCracken) growing up in the 1950’s with a so-many-people-can-relate-to stern father (Brad Pitt), and a sweet, loving mother (Jessica Chastain). I wouldn’t call her submissive, because she is very aware of her husband’s harshness, and keeps what peace there is by not crossing him more, and makes up for his hardness with her softness.

Dad is not a monster, however. There are many loving moments with the boys and we can understand where the Dad is coming from. But nevertheless, his sons are still watching and listening to his shortcomings, small and large. Brad Pitt is just spot-on as this flawed father who claims to be loving his sons while often still putting himself, his own ambitions and fragile self-image first.

One smallish gripe with the movie is that the mother almost borders on the girlish, the “idealized feminine,” and she never seems to be terribly busy. But of course, perhaps this is how young Jack saw her, things did move at a slower pace in those days, and perhaps even Moms had more leisure time, or perhaps the point WAS to focus on her playfulness in contrast to Dad.

When I say the eldest boy “narrates”—it’s not your typical voiceover. There are whispered prayers to God. God is “You,” or sometimes that “you” might be interchangeable with a family member. Snatches of daydreams and wishes. We hear his mother’s internal dialogue as well, and once in a while his Dad’s. Fox Searchlight has described the movie as “impressionistic,” and it is, but it’s also more solid than that. Although told in a beyond-brilliant kaleidoscope of small scenes, the story is very strong and unmistakable. These small scenes are so lifelike, so filled with the constant motion of childhood and boyhood and real life, you just give up trying to figure out how Malick did it, how he planned it, how he shot it, how he pieced it all together.

How does God speak? Oh, through everything. He busts out all over, permeates everything, and is as silent as planetary movement. He is known by Jack first through the people of faith who raised him: thanking God with grace at meals, worship at church, courage in tragedy, pointing to the sky “where God lives.” And young Jack struggles to know God, to find reasons to be a good man. The older Jack (Sean Penn) has an adult faith, but keeps going back to his young self to pick up the threads. But his faith is not fragile. It’s beautiful. It’s awakening and blossoming always fuller like God’s revelation of Himself. God who swims with His strangest red creatures in the bluest oceans and belches forth orange and black fire and smoke from a lava pit.

There is an extended (and I do mean extended) sequence of nature scenery intended either to make us gape in wonder, realize that (our) size doesn’t determine our preciousness, or imbibe God through our senses. Or all three.

There are NO gadgets in this movie. None. No phones (wait—there was just one toward the beginning), no TVs, no radios. People are unmediated. People just sit and wait. People look at each other. People read each others’ faces. People talk to each other, but most communication is non-verbal. The eyes have it. People stare. People touch each other. We witness the long thoughts of childhood. These are the days when we did ONE THING AT A TIME.

This is an incredible THEOLOGY OF THE BODY movie. It is the primal, primordial Theology of the Body movie. The masculine and feminine principles are so clearly delineated, and one of the film’s taglines seems to be: “O father, O mother, forever you wrestle within me.” Of course, the principles are witnessed and told from a male perspective (both the writer/director and main character are males). We see that we need both in our lives, in our heads, in our hearts. But it seems like Jack is really trying to understand his mother more than anything. Her pure love. Her telling him that the purpose of life is love and nothing else. His mother seems to be his muse.

"The woman is at the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world."
-- Blessed Mother Teresa

My own Moms totally understood this. If we WOMEN harden our hearts—what will happen to this old world? My Moms used to say over and over: “This earth could be heaven if we’d just love one another.”

After seeing the trailer and hearing the words: “There are two ways: the way of nature and the way of grace. We must choose which way we will follow,” I was concerned. It seemed to be setting up that horrible false dichotomy. Grace BUILDS on nature! These two things are not mutually opposed at all. But what was really meant was “nature without grace,” because the narration goes on to say: “Nature tries to please itself, be noticed, etc., while grace is humble, doesn’t need recognition….” It almost seems like Dad represented nature while Mom represented grace. It’s almost like St. Paul’s “flesh warring against the spirit,” idea—which does NOT mean the body/matter is bad or lowly! It means that there ARE parts of us that are not conformed to God, to God’s way of being and doing things.

Creation is screaming at us. God is screaming at us. Terrence Malick is screaming at us by making God scream at us through Nature/Creation. Terrence isn’t so much shoving God down our throats as he’s shoving God-in-Nature/Creation down our throats. Nature/Creation is a HUGE piece of THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, one that, IMHO, has not yet been developed by TOB scholars and us TOB soapbox vigilantes.

(Vadim Perelman [“House of Sand and Fog,” “The Life Before Her Eyes”] makes SUBTLE use of nature in his movies, also to marvelous ends.)

And yet, and yet, as @conversiondiary (atheist turned Catholic Mommy blogger) says: “God is just so ignorable.” If we have even an inkling to do so, we can shut Him out for our entire lives.

The soundtrack rumbles and church bells toll and operas rage. Nothing is ordinary. We look and look again. The universe is one big cathedral.

“Father,” “Mother,” “Brother” is whispered over and over (no sisters here)—the only “things” that matter. The mother “gives” her son to his wife. Relationships are all that matter, so we can bury our childish trinkets in the backyard before we move on.

Where is God? Well, He’d like to ask you the same question: Job 38:4. (The film begins with this verse.)


--This film will do a lot for people’s faith in God and/or sense of the metaphysical. It will strengthen them and give them permission to give in to their spiritual ruminations. Especially men. The film illustrates the concept that women just “get it,” while men have to “learn it.”

--As a Dad and lover of kids himself, Brad Pitt is just the perfect choice for the part.

--It was mostly the secular press/media (methinks) at my screening. They kinda sat in awe at the end. Or befuddlement. Time will tell. BUT I kinda think they liked it. Like the secular press/media liked “Into Great Silence,” and “Of Gods and Men.” In fact, I think they appreciate these movies MORE than us churchy people who breathe this God atmosphere all the time and probably take the Most High for granted as much as we try not to.

--Great lines said to God: “You let anything happen.” “Why should I be good if You’re not?”

--"Tree of Life" is about the predominant influence of our families on us. You will not be able to watch this movie without totally reminiscing about your own childhood.

--My posterior was well aware that “Tree” was 138 minutes. This is one long meditation, or as Roger Ebert calls it: "a prayer." You may wish to prepare with push-ups or other blood-circulating activities. Notwithstanding the fact that I was out of sorts, starving, uncomfortable, squished, and in desperate need of a lavatory while screening this film, I absolutely loved it, cannot shake it and don’t want to, and will be singing its praises for years to come.

--The WOWFACTOR and under-your-skin INDELIBILITY of this movie will DOUSE any NAYSAYING.

--Malick externalizes the internal, exteriorizes the interior like no other director.

--God is seeping….

--For further reflection, meditate on the words of one of my fav hymns: “Immortal, Invisible, One Only God” (can be sung in a bombastic OR lightly prancing fashion).

--Golda Meir once said: “Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great.” This movie seems to say: “Don’t be so great, you’re not that humble.”

--Can you say "explicit religious imagery that makes you want to be spiritual AND religious?"

--You will hear the cry of Our Lady of Sorrows: “My son!”

--If I’m not mistaken, the narration at the beginning says: “The nuns always told us….” Was that just wishful hearing????


--The nature cinematography emphasizes both the micro- and macro-level, and sometimes you can’t tell which is which and you can’t tell what the heck you’re looking at (some of ‘em even look like cancer spores) but it doesn’t matter because “everything is beautiful in its own way” and we are going to have aeons to live and appreciate everything.

--Job may be one of the oldest books of the Bible.

--Job didn’t have Jesus.

--Job didn’t have Jesus, so how the helicopter could he understand suffering?

--Malick has Job and Jesus.

--This most unusual of movies appropriately ends with the sound of wood thrushes, the most beautiful birdsong this side of the Promised Land.

[1] The Mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
[2] Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
[3] Our God comes, he does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
round about him a mighty tempest.
[4] He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
[5] "Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
[6] The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! [Selah]
[7] "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
[8] I do not reprove you for your sacrifices;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
[9] I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
[10] For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
[11] I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
[12] "If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
[13] Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
[14] Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High;
[15] and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
[16] But to the wicked God says:
"What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
[17] For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
[18] If you see a thief, you are a friend of his;
and you keep company with adulterers.
[19] "You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
[20] You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
[21] These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
[22] "Mark this, then, you who never think of God,
lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
[23] He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!"


"Tree of Life" is a grateful celebration of life!about 5 hours ago via web

"Tree of Life" is like a living, filmic scrapbook of one person's life....about 5 hours ago via web

We go to heaven together: “Tree of Life”

"Tree of Life"--the cream rises to the top. PM May 22nd via web

"Tree of Life"--From boo-ing to top prize (Palme d'Or) at Cannes!!!

Feel need to reconnect with self, past, God, nature, family, people?

2011 is the Year of the God Film: "Soul Surfer," "Tree of Life," "Courageous." 11:16 PM May 18th via web

Great review of "Tree of Life" Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips

We don't need to fantasize TOO much cuz our reality really is fantastical.
20 minutes ago

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Tree of Life": art, images, and memories.
20 minutes ago

"Tree of Life": wicked awesome.
21 minutes ago

"Tree of Life": you'll never be the same.
21 minutes ago

What are some of the ways humans "know"? See "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Tree of Life." Just remember: "Cave" and "Tree."
22 minutes ago

"Tree of Life" has changed filmmaking forever.
22 minutes ago

"Tree of Life" will knock your socks off.
7 hours ago

Get your Godflow on:

@ebertchicago Roger Ebert VIA SrHelenaBurns
"Tree of Life" is a form of prayer. My new blog entry, just posted:
23 hours ago

Film is evolving....
17 May

This film has made me very, very happy.

Got God?

Another awesome and accurate review of "Tree of Life" (Variety Mag)…

"Tree of Life" was booed AND cheered at Cannes! Oooooooh, controversial!!
"Tree of Life" got booed at Cannes. Now you HAVE to go see it.
1 hour ago

Why we need Moms AND Dads:
1 hour ago

Why we need Dads AND Moms:
1 hour ago

How do you "get back" to God?
1 hour ago

It's not your imagination. God really is talking to you. All the time.
1 hour ago

Looking for a Theology of the Body movie?
1 hour ago

There is no body/soul split in
1 hour ago

Can you tell I like this movie?
1 hour ago

Ladies--wondering how men relate to God?
1 hour ago

Magnifique: Brad Pitt in
1 hour ago

Job 38:4
1 hour ago

1 hour ago

Is God looking for you?
1 hour ago

Looking for God?
1 hour ago

"Tree of Life" is a big, fat unabashed God movie.
3 hours ago

The perfect Father's Day movie:
6 hours ago

Our earthly fathers weren't perfect, but our heavenly Father is.

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  1. Anonymous7:59 AM

    loved the movie- very good review. I totally saw the theology of the body and the reflection of the interior life of God in the family. Really moving. I was disappointed by the Bishops review because I found it to be a profoundly Christian movie.

  2. I loved this movie! Certainly not for everyone, but I liked the complexity of the plot and the use of screens shows such as Jack ponders his existence and place in the universe!

  3. Dreambox--that's a great way to put it: "Jack ponders his place in the universe"! I'm presently watching Malick's "The New World." Same style as "Tree." And lots of whispered prayers.... But "Tree" is Malick's masterpiece. I think he was just practicing for it in all his other movies. Hope it wins lots of Oscars.

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  5. The experience of "The Tree of Life" is one without measure. The visuals are so lush, the realism of the 20-minute depiction of the beginning of the world left me simply speechless. I cannot remember the last time I left a theater completely speechless and in complete awe.

  6. Jonny L10:06 AM

    You're right, this movie was unlike any movie I've ever seen before...because it was by far the worst film I've ever seen!!! Thank God I didn't blow money at the theatre on this! Who the $%#@ cares how deep, artsy, beautiful, etc. etc. etc. someone tries to go about making a movie...if the movie sucks! That is exactly what this movie was, a piece of crap! Anyone who agrees with me, great! You should probably pat yourself on the back for actually being the true intelligent ones that could realize this movie blows. Anyone who doesn't agree with me, so what! It was horrendous! I wasted over 2 hours of my life waiting for a movie to unfold and it never amounted to anything. Of course I got the symbolism, but like I said...if the movie sucks, you failed as a filmmaker. The only reason why I'm on here commenting is due to the fact that this movie was sooooo terrible, I immediately had to do a search and see what others were thinking because I was dumbfounded in regards to why some of these actors agreed to be a part of this load of garbage. Final thought: This director should kindly crawl in a hole and never come out so the rest of us don't have to put ourselves through something like this ever again. No amount of vfx or dinosaurs could've made this movie better. The only thing that could've made this movie better is not having made it at all!

  7. Anonymous8:01 AM

    I loved it but which brother died? Was it the youngest or the 2nd brother?

  8. Oh oh--I forget now. Our main character it the oldest boy? If so, 2nd brother. If our main character is 2nd brother, then oldest. I'm pretty sure it's not the littlest one. Eeeeeeeek!

  9. The experience of "The Tree of Life" is one without measure. The visuals are so lush, the realism of the 20-minute depiction of the beginning of the world left me simply speechless. I cannot remember the last time I left a theater completely speechless and in complete awe.

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