Friday, September 26, 2014

Re-Post: On My Favorite Christian Film

Must-See Film: TREE OF LIFE *Spoiler Alert*

If you are a Christian, I highly recommend Terrance Malick's masterpiece TREE OF LIFE. It is not a story in the traditional sense, and is much more like a dream in terms of the way it proceeds. Of those to whom I have suggested it, half think it is the worst thing they've ever seen, the other half seems to love it. I recommend that you do not watch it all at once, but piecemeal, discussing it with other people. I wrote a Bible study on it I'll make available to anyone who wants it.

TREE OF LIFE is, in the end, an attempt to capture the Face of God on film. If it does not accomplish this feat, it comes rather close. Malick explores the cosmic dimension of everyday life, by intermixing scenes of the cosmic evolution of the universe with scenes from a troubled Texas family, a family that in many ways 'incarnates' the very relationship between God and man.

The film opens with a basic laying out of what the overall themes of the semi-narrative will be. The mother is the living incarnation of God's Grace, which we experience by living simply and in tune with the overall rhythms of nature. In the beauty of the universe we experience the Grace of God, the mother of the family is this Grace as a living human being. In that sense she is a kind of Christ-figure. The father of the story is the brutality of nature, the facts of nature rather than it's beauty. He, like our own experience of the indifference of the natural order, teaches his children the law of 'survival of the fittest', and discounts the mother's conviction that love and meekness are ends that trump natural ends.

After this brief laying out the film jumps to the future where the family struggles to deal with the death of one of the three brothers who are central to the film. The eldest brother, all grown up, is broken by the memory of their difficult childhood, and the loss of the brother he loves. The parents are similarly shattered. The mother reaches out in prayer, and prayer that goes back all the way to the beginning of the universe, to the Big Bang.

We are then given a 12 minute jaunt through the entire history of the universe, complete with beautiful orchestral music. The implication being, that the entire beauty of the natural order, the grace the mother sees in the very fabric of things, is God's response to the human cry of suffering. That story continues on until we get to the family's early history, predating the death of the child.

The boys are all children, and the mother and father create a contradictory household. The mother is God's grace alive, leading the boys down the path of gentleness. The father is hard and demanding, and prepares the boys for a hard and demanding world. The children are, in a very real sense, the entirety of humanity, bombarded by contradictory experiences of the spiritual and the physical.

Everything about this movie is a theological reflection. That is it's essence. It is an attempt to make sense of the Books of Genesis, and Job not to mention the Gospels. It is visual homiletics. It is a good film with a powerful message. I highly recommend it.

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