I've never blogged about a movie - but then no movie has evoked so much thought, imagination and discussion for me. Through a mesmerizing array of dazzling images and a captivating story line, the ultimate question arises: why, with all the chaos and pain and cruelty we face, do we continue to believe in God?
The cinematography of
Tree of Life
is beyond stunning. I could have watched the movie just for its image. But the real purpose behind the imagery is its juxtaposition of beauty and destruction, of good and evil. And each image is a larger portrayal of the struggle of a young boy - and I believe of many of us.
The movie presents us with images of the chaotic and random beginnings of the universe and of life. One cataclysmic implosion begins the evolutionary process. One sperm survives and brings with it a particular life. An abandoned pet, ravaged by a horrible disease appears in this film, followed by a long, flowing image of a vividly blooming magnolia bush. A school of jelly fish float by and we're captivated by their beauty while remaining aware that their poison can paralyze. The ocean is serene... until it isn't. An animal lies helpless and we're certain it's about to be another animal's next meal, but the healthy one trots away without reason, possibly making room for the evolution of a new species.
This is the bigger picture of a particular child's life. Jack is born and knows only his parents' love and the simple desire to be good. "God, help me not to lie and help me not to be mean," he prays beside his bed. But new siblings arrive and Jack discovers jealousy. His daddy loves him, then becomes violent and distant, then tells him that he's all that matters, then ignores his little successes, back and forth, on and on.
"Father, you will always struggle inside me," whispers Jack.
On a particularly fun day swimming a child dies in front of him.
"Why should I be good when you aren't?" he asks God (for me, the most poignant line in the entire movie).
He watches an old man cross the street, and sees an emaciated man taken away by the police. Did his mother really give the man a drink of water or was that in Jack's imagination? How is it that one grows up an angry criminal and another grows up in order to take angry criminals out of society? And did that drink of water - if it was real - affect that man's life? We don't know. Do we ever know?
Jack sneaks into a home and does no harm but he's wracked with terror and guilt over his petty theft of an inexpensive item he finds beautiful and fascinating. The beautiful object swirls away in a torrential river.
He wishes his father dead then folds without resistance into his arms.
He "tortures" his brother as older brothers often do, but cradles him when he cries over leaving their home.
He "loves" the little girl at the desk next to him, follows her home.... does she slow down to let him catch up to her? The image vanishes and doesn't reappear.
Did this childhood moment affect him? Do all moments of our childhood affect us in some way?
What happens in the attic - a bare and scary and
room - and what does the image of the boy on the bicycle riding there in circles mean? I'm utterly fascinated by the constant juxtapositions.
"God, why can't I be go back to where they are?" Jack asks, looking at the trusting innocence of his two brothers. In the diary I kept at age nine, I wrote, "God, why can't I be good?"
The opening narrative of the movie draws us in: "My brother died when he was 19". Why this brother?
Of course we don't know that answer. And for me, that's the point of the movie and why it so resonated with me. Because while I don't believe in a traditional view of God and I don't believe everything happens for a reason, I have to ask myself the ultimate question:
I see both youth and death. I've known children who are disabled, children who have been raped, children who have died - and I've also known children who have been given the very best in life. I see the cruelty inflicted on animals and the pet who's smothered with affection. I've lain by the serene ocean and I've watched images of its horrific destruction. I carry the conflicts within me of those I love, lost the innocent connection with a God whom I once imagined destroying my demons, been stung by something that appeared beautiful, and survived foolish decisions alongside those who have not.
And yet in spite of all this randomness, I believe.
Hoping to discuss this movie with some of you....