“Are You watching me? I want to know what You are. I want to see what You see.”
— The Tree of Life
I picked up my belongings, walked out of the theater, and tried to think of a word to describe the film I’d just seen.
“Staggering” was all that came to mind.
The aforementioned film is “The Tree of Life,” Terrence Malick’s modern-day masterpiece which recently won the highly prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes. It features moving performances by Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain.
It’s a thundering epic full of silent grace. Quiet nuances understate infinite complexity.
A few people have asked “What is the story line?” Suffice to say it is about a family that serves as an allegory for numerous truths on God and humanity. The film (brilliantly scored by Alexandre Desplat) is not narrative-driven, forcing the viewer to comprehend and reflect upon each moment individually. To think about the glory of God whether or not he is prepared for it, whether or not he even believes in God. To be wonderstruck, quite possibly against his will.
Scene after scene speaks divine truth. How God calls our names before we know Him, beckoning us to Himself. How He is ever-present, ever among us. How He compassionately bears the sorrows of the downtrodden.
Virtually the entire film is about grace: its self-evident purity and power to withstand grief and torment. The nature of God and the “way of grace” are brought together in radiant depictions of beauty, demonstrating how God manifests Himself throughout the universe from the innocent light in a child’s eyes to the shattering, sweeping glory of the galaxy beyond. One steps away convinced that beauty is a divine institution, so easily corrupted by man but infinitely precious in its unadulterated form.
The film must be viewed as poetry — each line, visual, metaphor, sketch, and implication matters. Some of the most compelling moments are in the wordless glances and whispered questions. Absorb it with patience and unhurried thought.
The interpretations are many. I intentionally wrote this brief reflection without consulting the reviews of any critics in order to avoid adopting their initial impressions as my own. Many others have come up with deeply complex insight to the roles of the characters and meanings of various scenes, and there is indeed much to point out. But if every viewer, Christian or otherwise, could take away only one thing from this film, I pray it is wonder and hope to the highest degree: a startling, mind-blowing vision of the glory of God.
For He is beauty. He is grace. And He is everlasting life.