A Video Essay on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”

I saw the “The Tree of Life” three times in theaters.  The first viewing resulted in an experience that I only know to call… transcendent.  That is to say I found something internally had been awakened.  Deep places of emotional territory, the areas that connect me with all of humanity and all of creation, had been stirred.  So I returned a few nights later to see if the experience could be repeated.  If I was dunked under the water again, would I emerge changed a second time?  A third?

In the months following the theatrical release I would host screenings at my home and lent out my blu-ray  to several friends and family.  I would occasionally elicit follow up discussions to gauge reactions.  Most could admit a unique experience, but few understood why this film had become a minor obsession of mine.

My critical eye found it’s craft and content masterful.  It possesses a unique non-linear story structure, and an intimate, personal cinematic style that is both ground breaking and ground-ed in film-making’s earliest conventions.  It even provides some homework in the form of obscure religious symbols that, in my case, had to be researched and interpreted.  Despite it’s complexity and challenge to the audience it is as potent a cinematic experience as I’ve ever had.

I was also struck early on with the discussions and interactions between the main characters and the God of the Bible.  Simply not something I was accustomed to seeing in theaters, at least not handled this deftly.

However my experience contrasted with most popular critical reviewers who identified with the honesty in the human interactions of the main characters, some found it an atheistic film, or even a  film that is against God.  I was struck by the dichotomy of experiences that often contrasted my own.  As with all art-forms, there may be no correct interpretation, but I felt the need to at least try and articulate mine.

SPOILER ALERT: This video is made up from the audio and visuals from the actual film. Please view the actual film in it’s entirety before watching this essay.