I went the other night to see the new film The Tree of Life, with three young people (two sons and daughter-in-law). None of them cared much for it. But I loved it.
The film was directed by Terrence Malick, who, as one reviewer put it, "continues his solitary journey toward enlightenment and/or understanding and/or reconciliation, as he wrestles with spirituality, pain, memory, grief, family, fathers, mothers, brothers, and other big questions of life." The film is slow-moving and contains little dialogue. This means the characters--a father, mother, and their three sons growing up in 1950s Texas--don't do much to help viewers understand what's going on. You pretty much have to figure out the vast kaleidoscope of images and memories for yourself.
Early on, the film offers an awe-inspiring sequence in which the heavens and the earth are being created to the accompaniment of magnificent classical music. I caught myself thinking, "Yes, this might have been what the creation looked like." Some reviewers stubbornly described this as the history of evolution, but Mallick, who is a Christian, makes sure we understand Who is doing the creating by opening the film with a quotation from Job 38: "Where were you when I laid the fundation of the earth? . . . when the morning stars sang together?"
We hear the oldest son, Jack, offering up silent questions to God as he grows up, clearly trying to determine what kind of God He is. Why did He let a child drown in a public pool? Will God, if Jack asks him, please kill his father, with whom is is not getting along? Will God help him to be good, and stop telling lies? Jack's parents represent two views of life: The "way of nature" (the father) and the "way of grace" (the mother).
I agree with a reviewer from Christianity Today, who writes, "It's the middle section that reveals the most truth. Here, in one humble corner of a universe unimaginably large and complex, the true mystery of existence is manifest: A father, mother, childrren, love, death, hate, forgiveness, reconciliation."
Many viewers of a certain age will appreciate the beautifully shot images of life in the 1950s: kids who play kick-the-can in the street, light sparklers on the Fourth of July, and eat meatloaf with their parents at the kitchen table. The film takes us from the infant Jack to his toddlerhood and boyhood, reminding me of how great and holy a thing it is to bear a child, passionately love it, and care for it.
Some reviewers expressed extreme hostility towards this film, perhaps because they understood the Christian themes and didn't like them. Or perhaps--and I love saying this as a Christian about secular film reviewers--they just didn't understand the film. The best review that I've read so far--one that really seems to "get" what Malik was attempting to achieve--is here.