VeriQuikRevu: Why Tree of Life Should (but probably wonʻt) win Best Picture
Terrence Malickʻs film, like Jared Diamondʻs books, tackles The Big Issues. Malick reportedly spent several years collecting the images from the near-opening sequence – the part that baffled many and undoubted led to walkouts en masse, causing people to miss the filmʻs brilliance. These are no random images. While they range from the very large (celestial movements) to the very small (bacterial movements), they represent the development, not of life, but of existence. I got a sense of what he was up to on my first viewing, but it took a second to follow his thread.
From the big bang through the dinosaurs, Malick shows how the nature of existence can be seen in everything and anything we look at. I didnʻt quite get the part where the dinosaur puts and removes its foot on the head of another injured dinosaur until a neighborʻs dog did it to mine. The contingent nature of things is represented as much in that act as it is in the life story of the family the film follows. The protagonistʻs parents (played, as you well know, by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) represent the “way of grace” and the “way of nature,” grace being the feminine.
The Mother is patient, long-suffering one might say, but is able to see the beauty in things – even in Waco, where they live. The Father is relentless in his pursuit of power and his ambition, and the son wavers throughout his life between the two. As the trailer puts it: “mother.. father.. always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.” Because mother and father are not mother and father, but eternal forces inherent in the nature of being.
When the Son is grown (played by Sean Penn), he has obviously followed the path of his father. This is evidenced by his ultramodern house and prestigious job. But the memory of his deceased brother, who was on the path of grace, haunts him. The bleak landscapes he finds himself on are landscapes of the mind, or (dare I say?) the soul, as he clambers toward redemption.
There hasnʻt been a film like this. But in this narcissistic and materialist age, such a film is so far out of the purview of even the most sophisticated (especially them), that it can only be seen as the product of an eccentric, probably misguided recluse. The Oscar judges, in the main, wonʻt think much of this film, and theyʻll be wrong. And in an age in which mass opinion reigns (you havenʻt seen American Idol?), wrong becomes right.