After months of wait, I finally got to see Terrence Mallick’s new masterpiece – Tree of Life. It is never good to see a movie with too much expectation, and I had carefully avoided reading much about this work. So, when the movie unfolded into an orchestra of Universal creation, I was astounded. I was not expecting an hour of a musical journey taking me through the creation of life. That anyone could attempt such a feat in a movie was impressive.
Tree of Life brought together the dichotomy of a vast cosmos versus individual life. Many times, a cosmic order is used as a salve for personal tragedies. God has a much larger scheme, the Universe has a much larger scheme, your personal sorrows are small. But is it comforting to know that you are nothing in that much larger scheme, that you could suffer personal losses and the Universe will just move on? Would it not be more satisfactory if you were the center of the Universe and the world would come to a halt if there was a hitch in your journey? It is possible that much of human angst is caused by the knowledge of being miniscule. Perhaps this is what causes Jack O’brien’s (Sean Penn) angst and restless wanderings.
This film is a journey – into the memories of childhood, into the realm of Universal knowledge, and finally into the beyond. As a middle aged man, Jack O’brien remembers growing up in a small Texan town with two brothers. They have an idyllic childhood, spent in blissful afternoon excursions, looked upon by an angelic mother and a doting, though disciplinarian father. The brothers are happy in each others’ company. There is just one scene in which sibling rivalry is mildly indicated: a toddler Jack looks upon his baby brother with curiosity, expecting him to play with him and then goes to throw tantrums when he finds no response. Mallick has captured a whole range of emotions in such subtle, ethereal scenes. There is very little dialogue in the entire movie. People whisper to themselves, or sometimes it appears that only bits of conversations are overheard by the camera/viewer – none of the words are spoken for the benefit of the viewer. In the movie are the rebelliousness of growing up, an exploration of personal failure and how it changes a person as a father, and more overpowering – a deep sense of loss. When Jack’s younger brother dies at the age of 19, the whole family is thrown off, especially the mother, who wanders restlessly in the woods, seeking an answer from God. She asks: ‘They say he has gone to God, but was he not with God all the time?’ Her confusion, and sense of being wronged is deeply touching. Jack’s misery is more lasting, as he tries relentlessly to keep the memory of his brother alive. His mind continues to wander, until one day, in the afterlife, he meets his family again and smiles in the togetherness.
It is hard to know whether Mallick is pitching a war between personal losses and the vastness of continuous life, or if he is trying to find comfort in the continuity of life. It seems like he is still wondering, as am I. But I am sure I will look forward to the blu ray release in October – so that I can enjoy the magnificent scenes on my personal screen.