There are films that try to say something. Try to be important. Aim for significance. There are earnest attempts to utilize cinema as a means of edifying and enlightening. Yes, there are ambitious film makers who seek to make films of high artistic merit. Then there's Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life.
With God appearing as himself, herself, self. At least I assume that was the real deal. Had me convinced.
There is within Tree of Life large spaces in which my mind wondered away to areas totally unrelated to the film or its themes. Then again when your theme is life itself I suppose its impossible to be off topic.
Tree of Life is not without stretches that will induce yawns from the most high brow intellectual on your block. But when a movie also has you contemplating parenthood, childhood, death, and the beginning of life on Earth...well, you can forgive the occasional slow stretch. For that matter, perhaps such breaks are needed. This is, after all, awfully heady fare.
Mundane details about the film include the fact that the "story" such as it is, is set in 1950's Waco, Texas, but also at the Big Bang, primordial ooze and present day and somewhere in between all places. Heaven? Brad Pitt is the stern father of three lads in their pre teens who walked right off of a Norman Rockwell painting. Jessica Chastain is the mom. I did not know her before but will not soon forget this amazing actress. Sean Penn is the present day incarnation of the oldest boy. His scenes, by the way, made little sense to me but were so rich with significance and beauty of some kind that I cannot explain, that I'll be making my own meaning of them.
Much of what happens in the film is garden variety growing up. But as told by Malick in the Tree of Life, we see that every move we make is rich with the meaning of life and our place in the universe. It really is.
Early in the film the mother's voice whispers (there is a lot of whispering voice over) that we can go the way of nature or the way of grace. Nature is an unforgiving master that giveth and taketh away. Grace however....
So there is yin and yang. There is God as a forever presence, but not of the Old Testament variety angrily imposing His will. There is a search for meaning and no easy answers to be found in a book. Discovery must come through the living and the asking. Through the developing and understanding of nature and grace. Journeys of self discovery, we see, take us to the roots of humankind and existence itself.
Yes it is all very deep. But Malick's gift is to provide us with a very rich stew that lies lightly as we digest it all. It is a film that does not require your imagination at all, just a mind opened to allowing come what may. Let the visions, the scenes, the symbols, the characters flow into your conscience. I do not know how on Earth the DVD will be divided into chapter. The Tree of Life is like a river.
I don't know if it takes remarkable courage to make such a film or just a conviction that one should aim big. Malick is clearly an ambitious director and that's not news. Would that there were more of his kind. And more movies that dared to be about the something.