Last Friday our friend Nathaniel (the guy behind the Faint Not video) suggested heading to the Belcourt Theater to see The Tree of Life. I was intrigued by the film, and I’d heard mixed reviews. Some folks thought it was life changing. Others thought it was plotless and boring. We decided to see for ourselves.
If you haven’t heard about it – The Tree of Life is a film that chronicles the story of a family in Texas in the 50’s. The family consists of the father, a man driven by the idea of material success who is always feeling like a failure thus having anger issues, played by Brad Pitt. The mother is an idealistic, carefree, childlike woman, played by Jessica Chastain. And finally, their three young boys, the eldest Jack (the main character in the movie), the middle boy (the family’s favorite, especially to the mother), and the youngest, who doesn’t get a whole lot of face time.
The beginning of the film talks about the idea of nature vs. grace, and this theme remains central throughout the film. The mother describes nature as being selfish and harsh, while grace is forgiving and gentle. I feel like this may have been the first time I watched a film that spoke honestly about nature. A lot of the people I talk to want to believe that human beings are fundamentally good, and I think that our society tries to put forth that idea in general.
You see Jack trying to make sense of nature and grace throughout the film. His friend drowns in a pool when he is very young, causing Jack to question God, “Why him? Did he do something bad? Where were you?” He deals with his father’s anger, pointed especially at him as it probably is with a lot of eldest sons. He thinks, “He says not to put your elbows on the table…but he does.” Sometimes he even wishes his father were dead.
The entire story is centered around the death of the middle son. He dies at 19. The film never says why, but I think it’s probably in Vietnam or at war. The story flashes between Jack’s childhood with his brother, and his adulthood where he and his parents are still trying to make sense of the death. One thing I really liked about the film is that even while the family questions everything about life and God and “why bad things happen to good people” they never seem to fully lose faith. At least that’s how I interpret the story. They continue to believe in grace even when they aren’t able to fully see it in their own lives.
I loved that the film focused so much on the character of God. Was it a “Christian” film? No, not really. But it certainly made me think about God and his beauty (so many gorgeous creation and nature scenes), power, wisdom, and vastness, along with his interaction in the life of individuals. The film was very thought provoking. We left in a dazed state. We talked to a few people outside the theater and it seemed that everyone was in the same, “what just happened in there and did I like it?” place. I spent a few days deciding whether or not I liked the film. I think I’m only just now realizing that I did.
Was it too long? Maybe. Was it boring? It had its moments. Should you see it? I think so.
And don’t worry, nothing written here spoils the plot or gives away any part of the story. The film is constantly flashing between Jack’s childhood and adulthood, meaning that you know about the middle son’s death from the beginning of the story.
Now that I’ve finished my essay:
In other news, have you guys watched The Human Experience yet? it’s an absolutely stunning documentary. You must watch it. Now. I think it’s streaming on Netflix. Anyhow, we loved it. We tweeted about it and the folks at Grassroots Films (the company behind the film) were kind enough to send us a copy for free. Seriously. FREE. So now we love it even more.
And I’m done with films for today. You’d think we’re all hip and with it after this post when it comes to indie films. But we’re totally not. Any good suggestions out there?