The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

"It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire."

"He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die."

I went to see Mr. Malick’s new film about a month ago with a friend who wanted to see X-Men, but was dear enough to acquiesce to my movie choice. At the end of the show, I was surprised to find myself defending Tree of Life. And then I wasn’t surprised. I expected it to be a perfect film. It is not a perfect film. Though, here, one month later (and after having read Blood Meridian twice through) I’ll note the things it did that moved and startled me.

The repeated imagery of windows and doors made me think about the tempting nature of portals. Throughout the film, characters depart, arrive, meet opportunities to exit or enter goodness or evil. Windows serve as views of the outside and also as mirrors, looking glasses. As usual, Malick uses mirrors masterfully. (On a very broad note, the film often struck me as an ecstatic celebration of the sense of sight.)

Faces are kept out of view in the opening frames. This reminded me of the anonymity of existence and/or the mystery of what this world and all of us wandering around it in appear to someone/thing like God.

Like Badlands, it often seems more like choreography (of the human form and of the visual world) than cinematography. And there are dance sequences (the brothers chasing and playing, the mother dancing on air, the mother’s hands opening up against the bright white sky, the figures on the beach) that seem to admit to this.

The dance. Here, perhaps because it is just such a fresh wound, I think of the Judge’s final speech in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. “There is room on the stage for one beast and one alone. All others are destined for a night that is eternal and without name. One by one they will step down into the darkness before the footlamps. Bears that dance, bears that dont [sic].”  Malick and McCarthy capture the vast and various emotional landscapes of existing in the world. They pit Grace against Nature and celebrate, with brutal beauty, the cruel chaos (or not) of our naked universe.