From the Beginning of Time to the End of Days
THE TREE OF LIFE
Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011
Terrence Malick, the wandering auteur, has directed only five features in the thirty-eight years since he scored a major critical success with his 1973 debut film, Badlands, an artistic road movie starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as natural-born killers on a spree.
His second picture, Days of Heaven (1978), is an elliptical romance; his third, The Thin Red Line (1998), is a philosophical war picture; and his fourth, The New World (2005), is a Wagnerian retelling of the Pocahontas story. Each is experimental and unorthodox—enough so to forestall profits at the box office—and each opens intriguing, new perspectives on the nature, purpose, and possibilities of cinema itself.
The Tree of Life continues this trajectory in fascinating ways, extending Malick’s lifelong project of blending film and philosophy into areas of autobiography and religion. On one level it’s a domestic drama and coming-of-age tale, centering on a boy named Jack who’s entering adolescence in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s, the place and time of Malick’s early years. On a deeper level, it’s a study of grief and loss, tracing the effect of an untimely death on Jack’s family and on his own still-forming sensibility. And ultimately it’s a tale of salvation and redemption, with a story that moves from the earthly plane to the heavenly one in emphatically religious terms. It’s a movie of great intellectual ambition, weaving a not-quite-seamless web of images, sounds, and meanings that stretches from the beginning of the world to the end of days.
Sterritt, David. 2011. From the Beginning of Time to the End of Days. Tikkun 26(4): 31.