Monday, March 5, 2012

Deep Roots and Heavenward Growth

The Tree of Life isn't exactly a movie but more of a visual poem. Director Terrence Malick meditates on the nature of human existence with the help of flashing images and disembodied whispers. The setting is Texas. This is a land where folks debate whether life comes from loving, purposeful creation or ruthless, impersonal evolution. The film suggests our tree is rooted in both. Our spirits are miraculous gifts, but we're still tiny specks in the universe.

Sean Penn is a Houston architect in a world of steel and glass. News of a family tragedy shakes his foundation. He is forced to remember that humans design awesome structures but have little control over the cosmos in which we set them. The Tree of Life begins with a quote from the Jewish scriptures about God asking tragedy-struck Job, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?"

The architect reminisces about his mom: Jessica Chastain. Her motherly love gave him spiritual grace and made life a garden paradise. (Research indicates that mothering during the first decade is highly correlated to happy, secure adults.) Still, such nurturing love doesn't fully prepare one for the real world jungle that lies East of Eden. So, the architect also recalls his dad: Brad Pitt.

His father tried to show him primal nature to help him survive and thrive in harsh reality. (Research also indicates that fatherly discipline during the second decade of life is correlated to higher-achieving individuals.) Yet, the architect's father carried this effort to an extreme that was cruel and oppressive rather than beneficial.

The architect comes to realize he is not THE Architect. He wonders "Why am I here?" and "Where am I going?" plus "Is the ultimate force behind the universe embracing of my value like Mom or demanding of my submission like Dad. The answer: bit of both. You may not like Malick's conclusions or his imagery in framing the questions. However, if you're waiting for Hollywood to make a more sincere philosophical reflection in your lifetime, don't hold your breath.


  1. I like this photo
    because,is a landscape of
    nature, is a healthy content
    and very nice.

  2. i like this photo because i think that encourages the union in the family

    by: Sergio Alberto Islas Rodriguez

  3. Thanks mucho, William. I'm always astonished when a movie hints at the profundity that the best gift a human can give their offspring is a good mom and dad who love each other. This truth is highly uncomfortable when so many of us fail in that regard.

    Yet, so what? All humans screw up at something or other. We can still do good by passing on the wisdom gleaned from mistakes to the next generation rather than unhelpful and misleading ego-defenses. Teddy Roosevelt gave this advice: "Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are." What more can we do?