Tuesday, May 31, 2011
'The Tree of Life', Surfaces, Truth, Job and God
Just as important as the searching questions of the humans in the film (primarily Jack), is the fact that God is actually answering the questions posed. The answers from God, of course, come in the form of the events that occur in the film, the responses from the characters, the significance within the whole of the narrative, character's realizations and so forth. And all of God's responses in the film are somewhat colored by God's response to another group of interlocutors, Job and Elihu. A couple of verses from Job 38 open the film. In the verses God is speaking -- addressing Job whose friend Elihu had been speaking with him about God's wisdom -- and saying "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?" The statement by God is not solely meant as a display of His own authority or of Job's insignificance to him (as many reviewers unfamiliar with Job, and reading the quote out of context, seem to take it to mean); on the contrary, Job was God's beloved follower.
The questioning done by Job, as well as the 'wisdom' of his friends, is echoed in the voiceovers of the characters in this film, also wondering why it is they suffer as they do. To which God's reply always carries the same connotation and intonation of his reply to Elihu and Job: I'm in control; stop trying to reduce my ways to an economy that you can grasp; you're in no position to understand precisely how it is I toll out justice; accept the gift of life as it is, and rejoice in all of its particularity; love each other and show one another grace just as I have shown infinite love and grace in calling you forth from nothing to participate in Creation.
If you take the cues from the Bible quote and the rest of the narrative, all of this is present in the most surface, superficial reading of the film (superficial being a positive thing in this context, given what Malick is going for), so I'm delving no deeper than the surface. I'd argue that others are too quickly looking past the surface, if anything.
Of course, in another sense, what I've described here is necessarily an act of interpretation and distillation. My words certainly are not printed on the celluloid of the film itself. And The Tree of Life has much more to say than only that which I've vaguely approximated here (and it says it better and with much greater beauty). I would only urge you to appreciate, not necessarily the inexhaustible depth of the film, but rather its (seemingly) inexhaustible surface, which is in turn an approximation of God's inexhaustible gift, in all its glorious particularity.