Thoughts on Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life"
"The Tree of Life" is an odd film that seems, like its arboreal title, to branch in different directions.
On the one hand, it seems to make a distinctly Bergsonian argument. The first hour or so of the film is relentless motion — the camera moves as it films movement. All is flux. All is change.
And human being, including its emotional complexity, is just another inflection of the great flux that is life. Just as fire and lava and water and amoebas and jellyfish and air and wind are the ever changing, ever moving stuff of life, so are human beings. We are not fundamentally different than any of these things — than air, fire, water, animal. It's all just stuff; it's all movement; it's all flux; it's all life.
In this sense, the film is thoroughly worldly. The camera loves this life, all of this life — even its brutality, its indifference. It's all so freakin' beautiful, relishing everything, even the banality of suburban life.
On another hand — there may be more than two hands here, there seems to be a transcendence that lurks and hovers. The camera pans up over and over again, as if there were a god in the sky overseeing it all. The mother says it at one point, in a near whisper: "God lives there," pointing to the sky. And all the worldiness, the lushness of the images? That's the power of God — a God who is different than those waterfalls, different than the Big Bang, transcending it all.
Indeed, the ending seems to give us heaven, resurrection, angels.
And yet we can read that ending differently — rather than transcendence, it gives us the power of memory, the fold of time on the banks of the great oceanic teem of time.
I love this ambivalence of the film — at once thoroughly of this world and transcendent.