Film: The Tree of Life


The nuns taught us there were two ways through life — the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

The Tree of Life is a brilliant new form of cinematic art by the masterful and sometimes enigmatic director, Terrence Malik.

The best way to appreciate the film is to flow with the imagery and drop all expectations of a conventional narrative. This is cinematic poetry, passionate and true, that is richly layered with the euphoria of human experience.

The premiere of The Tree of Life at the Cannes film festival last year hauntingly echoed, in a way, the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s intensely modernist ballet, Rite of Spring. Now considered a magnum opus, Stravinsky’s towering work caused a near riot when it was first performed; and at Cannes, the boos and hisses during the first showing of The Tree of Life were punctuated by intermittent cries of “Genius!” Isn’t it interesting how so much dissension is generated by anything deemed “different?”

Scanning the scathing customer reviews posted at Amazon and other sites, I was saddened but not surprised. Many people would rather worship the sterile conformity that feeds our consumeristic nation than step outside the feeding frenzy and savor a new and startling flavor. I wonder how art will continue to survive in a world where its occupants are so tragically losing their ability to see and hear. In an artistic sense it is like Puritanism come full circle, where a creative act of staggering originality incites a witch hunt.

Think of The Tree of Life as The Rite of Spring of cinema. You may feel ambivalent about it — or even hate it — but like other great works from the past that were once maligned and misunderstood at first, I predict The Tree of Life will reveal its brilliance with age and gradually earn its standing in cinematic history as a film classic.