Tragedy Meets the Tree of Life

Unexperienced What's this?
This button allows you to
view where you have been and what you have seen. Click on/off to update.
Why do the innocent suffer?

The Tree of Life resurrects the era when Hollywood still aspired to greatness. Not since 2001: A Space Odyssey (or less successfully, The Fountain) has a filmmaker attempted to capture both the origins of life and our ultimate destination. Terrence Malick came of age when movies still mattered. And with The Tree of Life, only his fifth feature in forty years, Malick has drawn upon ancient biblical wisdom to prod and comfort adventuresome filmgoers. Some will find it tedious and overreaching. But those who surrender to the resplendent images may find the experience unexpectedly healing.

Countless stories have started with the problem of pain. We wonder why the innocent suffer.Why do bad things happen to good people?The Tree of Life opens with quotations from the book of Job. In the biblical narrative, Job loses his wife, his children, his health and his home. Friends offer bad advice, blaming him for his ordeal, suggesting he repent from whatever sins caused God to send so much suffering. Job is understandably tempted to curse God.Malick has chosen source material ripe for drama. In 1959, Archibald MacLeish turned the trials of Job into the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, J.B. And the Coen Brothers offer their take on the book of Job in the dark, quirky, and Oscar-nominated film, A Series ManYet, The Tree of Life focuses not upon the losses of Job but upon the overwhelming answer from God. Ultimately, Job is humbled by a God’s barrage of questions rooted in creation. “Where you there, Job?” “Did you set this all in motion?”

The Tree of Life dares to offer a divine perspective on tragedy.

Without that framework, Tree of Life may seem random and intractable. It is a poetic meditation on loss.  It unfolds as a visual symphony with five or six movements centered around a core aspect of life: death, birth, the age of awareness. The sections are separated by musical cues rather than plot twists.  The soundtrack includes classical compositions by Bach, Brahms, and Holst and contemporary requiems by Henryk Goreki, John Tavener and Mother Thekla. The threadbare plot flows from tragedy to creation, and from innocence to experience. A family is invited to move from grief to surrender. And viewers are taken from Genesis to Revelation.

Read Craig Detweiler’s full review.