The Way of Nature and the Way of Grace
Every time I come home to my mother's house I notice one particular tree in the front yard. There are a couple trees growing now, and there were a couple more when the house was first built, but there's one that's been there since the beginning. I planted that tree twelve years ago, and I did it all by myself. I spent hours with a pickax and a shovel diggin' through the panhandle clay. I took the time to pour in the peat-moss and set the then sapling. I got it centered as best could, and then I packed back in all that Amarillo clay. That was twelve years ago when that tree was just a sapling, and now I look at it as it continues to grow tall and hearty and I take pride in the fact that as flat as is the Great Plains, I planted this tree and it grows as much as it thrives.
There can be two scary possibilities when trying to interpret Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. A. It could be a David Lynch type movie where the story is so obtuse and open that interpretation is more up to the spectator than it is to the creator whereby any interpretation no matter how bogus is valid. 2. Or, Malick's thread of narrative is so precise that he as the creator and storyteller bares full responsibility of how the movie translates in the minds of the spectators. Cinematic: very. But story: questionable.
Let me clear my name here. I hate "films." I loathe "cinema." Not that it's not my forte, it's just that my reading of these niche experiments don't serve the same values as they once did and because of the lack of proper timing, these "films" in turn become cheap and unreliable.
However, I think there is something very interesting in The Tree of Life. A few years ago I posited a very personal hypothesis, in which says: In the great span of the universe and abroad, nothing matters; In the great span of the personal life of a person, everything matters. It's not a tough theory to read and comprehend, but when it comes to application, this duality vacuums every piece of knowledge and experience and honors as it simultaneously flushes it.
This is the experience of Malick's The Tree of Life. The family that exists in this story behind smartly moving handycam shots and beautiful choral music, wrestles solely with their experiences of being a family in the middle of the 20th century. They have their flaws, and they have their joys, and all-in-all as they exist through it all, they have their personal story. Yet, as they exist, so too is told the story of a greater mythology--though true or not doesn't need to matter, because the pretense is not the truth of which mythology but rather that there is and that there was and that there will always be a greater mythology. The family is not aware of this depiction of the two, where as they are the one and the mythology is the two. They are just aware of themselves. However, the larger mythological story, shown in a very short but large expanse, doesn't wash out the story of the handsome American family, but rather sets a different set of values found in the context of the much larger mythology.
There are no feelings of contentment. The movie doesn't finalize on any one thought. There is just a nebulous stop, for in reality, the story goes on. The universe still exists. Humanity still exists. And a little pear tree at 8620 Lamount drive still exists. Not only does it still exist, but like the rest, it continues to grow until it cannot grow any longer. And whenever that happens, we'll then have no time to decide.