Tuesday, February 05, 2013

After a second viewing of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life: the spiritual aspect, the lyricism and the sadness

I saw The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick (in the picture) a second time after my colleague Aakshi Magazine told me that I did not like the movie because I must have seen it in a wrong mood. My friend Jugu Abraham pointed out that I missed the 'theological' aspect. I did note the quote from the Book of Job at the beginning of the film the first time round. And the second time I saw it much more clearly. The quote shows God asking Job as to whether where he (Job) was when the foundations were earth laid. This is followed in the early scenes when the character played by Jessica Chastain saying that there are two ways, that of Nature and that of Grace; that Nature follows the way of only fulfilling itself and it is Grace that leads to happiness. And then we have the sermon where the priest says that it not just the wicked but also the good people who face difficulties, troubles, sorrows. There is no escape.
The character played by Brad Pitt believes that men make their own destiny. This is the creative, emotional tension in the film. Terrence Malick places the issue squarely in the film. And he tries to tilt the argument in favour of Grace. He does this through the incidents showing the death of one of the boys, the head of the family losing his job and the family moving away from the home where they had lived. Malick also uses music to further his argument. It would seem that the head of the family played by Pitt who is reaching to truth of life through music, while his wife seeks it through love. This is an interesting aspect of the film. The other element that Malick uses in the film to point to Grace and indirectly to God is through light, sunlight. Malick has then used beauty to make his point in the film -- of the mother played by Chastain, loving family bonds, the peace and harmony of the family,the music, the sunlight, the woods, the sea. He melds them all together and the effect is good. He chooses to make his point in his own impressionistic way and that there is no clarity in his view. All that he seems to saying that despite much darkness, despair and sorrow in the world, what prevails is sunlight, Grace and joy as it does in the story of Job. If I remain unsatisfied at the end of the second viewing it is because I feel that he chooses his own way to make his point and tell his story -- which is his right -- but that seems to remain elusive and illusive. My colleague Aakshi Magazine made a brilliant observation that it is wrong to speak of the story and characters, memories and that the movie is not about characters and that the characters as a matter of fact remain insubstantial and that they do not form the core of the film, and that the film is about the beautiful depictions and that it is not about the story. Perhaps, she has a point. I am lost without a story!

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