Film Review—The Tree of Life: Kosmocentric Realism

If you haven’t heard The Tree of Life is a film that questions immortality from the perspective of an eternity.  The eldest son of a Texas family contemplates his life, as he reconciles with his father. The film came out earlier in 2011.  As many artistic films do, Tree of Life  received mixed reviews from critics and theater goers alike, yet many awards it has won. [24 awards and 15 nominations] Writer Terrence Malik also directs Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Fiona Show and Jackson Hurst.  Malik is a Harvard Philosophy Grad, and Rhodes Scholar. His films are typically out of doors, with nature, and steeped with philosophical and spiritual pondering.  Some critics claim that not since Kubrick’s 2001:Space Odyssey has a film dared such cosmic feast.

A visual journey, the movie travels back to before the beginning—blink and you will miss it, because nothing is nothing; the unknowable; the un-tellable story, not even darkness because light had yet to Become.  Flash!  Gases explode and the Universe is born.  Mother and Father are in crisis after they each receive telegrams.  A spiritual contemplation in a secular world, how, why would God be so indiscriminate?  Why, if faithfully mother prays for the safety and health of family does death come in such a cruel and merciless way?  Thy will be done.

The film starts out as Mother contemplates lesson of her rural youth.  You either follow the path of grace (she), or of nature.  Nature can be cruel and unforgiving.  Grace, the opposite—driven by compassion.  Either way, life is imperfect though.  Yet by choosing to live with Grace over Nature, we choose to temper ourselves, we choose wisely over following instincts.  The eldest son, distant from the father, resembles him during his budding youth.  Experimenting with vandalism, steals something from a neighbor and then is wrought with guilt and shame.

Malik’s ideas are that of a Realist.  His film’s perspective is decidedly non-relative.  A spiritual journey  is a human quest, and as much as it asks who or what is God, it asks who and what am I?  In the film Malik takes us only as far as we know, our journey is quite expansive, and this includes billions of years before we came along on the scene.  From the start of our Universe to the first signs of life on earth, through pre-historic times, and the birth of hominids—this process of birth, death, and new life indirectly tells us why we are here.  I say indirectly because  some of the more eloquent moments in the film are without words.  Malik ends The Tree of Life without a definitive; without cornering the nature of the universe, attempting to tame the wild nature of a 14 billion year process.  Spelled Kosmos (the original Greek spelling and definition) points to the sum total of reality which includes mind and spirit.  That is to say, both the knowable and unknowable.  The Tree of Life also ends with a fantasy.

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