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Posts Tagged ‘creation’

I have seen Tree of Life (from Terrence Malick) called “a prayer,” “a symphony,” and  “a magnum opus.” It is all of those and it is a meditation. It is a journey through memories and heartache, through the questions of life, and the question of who I am. The Tree of Life is a movie experience that I’ve never had before, a film that plays out like a painting or maybe even a devotional. I’ve never seen a movie that presents the questions and truths that Malick does, and actually give you the space and time to contemplate and think about it. This movie is a contemplation as crazy as that sounds. Critics have raved while filmgoers have been mixed. When my wife and I saw it in downtown Reno last night, there were at least 3 people that walked out right in the middle of the film. It’s not linear, it’s not a simple story and plot, and the creation sequence can seem bizarre if you’re not looking for it. This is a movie that should be read about and thought about before even seen, I don’t think I can actually spoil it for you no matter how much I share. It would be as if I was describing a song or painting – you ultimately just have to see it and experience it.

Malick gives you a lot to think about and wrestle with in his masterpiece. In this post, I want to touch on the film experience and style, the creation sequence, and the big questions. In another post, I want to discuss the aspects of sin and family that Malick so brilliantly gives us. My desire is that this discussion will help you not only digest the film but be prepared to view it as well.

The Film Experience & Style

This is no simple story or plot. You find out about the death of a character before you even meet him. You hear voice overs of characters intermixed with other characters through sequences of the big bang and the ocean. This film was genius. I realized at the end as my wife and I discussed it that it truly is a walking through of the memories of the older brother. Malick goes beyond that to give you meditations and memories of the parents and the vision of creation, but it is mostly through the eyes of the oldest brother and thereby has some of the limitations of his knowledge and vision. There is still significant progression through the middle part of the film from the birth of the older brother to the significant moment that starts to bring the movie to a close, but even that progression jumps and melds together like a collection of memories and thoughts.

The acting was powerful. There are so little words that the film depends upon the unspoken interactions of the characters, the facial expressions at the dinner table, the look of their own wrestling with life, the way these characters express physical affection and how that is affected by their struggles and sin. Pitt is amazing, Jessica Chastain is brilliant, Penn is perfect, and Hunter McCracken as the oldest son is really good. This film is made or broken by how well you empathize & understand these individuals and I was sold. But what will turn off and turn away most of you is the creation sequence that seems to come out of nowhere early in the movie.

The Creation Sequence

The parents are introduced, as well as the older brother, and a reason for grief. Then, the creation sequence hits you. This is where one couple simply got up and walked out. It’s not a simple 2-3 minute part but it felt at least 15-20 minutes long. Malick takes you from the big bang to the dinosaurs all with the overarching questions of “Where is God?” and “Why?” You know this is creation though presented more with the slant of millions of years. It was very jarring to my wife. She even leaned over to me, saying, “This is weird!” So why is this story here? A dinosaur interaction sequence, really? Couldn’t the film have been fine without it?

I think the creation sequence is crucial to the film, as strange and jarring as it can feel. Malick presents a world where God is real and where God created, where we look for him and listen for him. This creation is part of who God is to Malick, who God is to these characters, it’s the main way Malick presents God and introduces us to him. This part of the film, along with the beginning scenes leading up to it, made me think of Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson. If you’ve read Wilson’s book, I think it helps you appreciate Malick’s focus on creation, nature, and the wonder of the world we live in. However, the problem with the world of the Tree of Life is what my wife quickly discerned: God is creator but distant, impersonal, and seemingly absent.

The Big Questions

Who is God? Why is their pain and suffering? Who am I? Malick presents a world where God exists, where he creates, but a world that I would question where the hope is. In Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, Wilson ponders creation and suffering but brings his thoughts to single point on which it all relies in order to know God is good and that he is personal and loves us: the Cross. Without the cross, without God coming to us in the form of a man in Jesus, we are lacking. Tree of Life presents the weight of sin with no atonement, God with no face, and us with no grounded identity. Think about Jack in the future: nostalgic, pondering, praying, and… very alone. God apart from Jesus Christ is distant, impersonal, and simply who we make him. This is the fatal flaw in the powerful vision presented by Malick. Don’t get me wrong though. Tree of Life is a tremendous movie and an experience that worth the ride. I appreciated the creation sequence, it was very gutsy and amazing. I appreciated the prayers of these characters. I appreciated that God was even invited to this experience of a film. The film simply evoked a desire for more than just nostalgia and meditation. I wanted God himself.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11 ESV)

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