Tree of Life

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tree of Life
"The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.

Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things."

Opening lines from the movie, Tree of Life

When I was little, my father’s favourite singer was Eddy Arnold. Though known primarily as a country singer, in the sixties Mr. Arnold decided to expand his musical horizons a bit and began to both record and perform with symphony orchestras. This move was rather unpopular with some of his more rabid fans, but Daddy loved it, and when the tour came to our town he purchased tickets for us to go. I well remember sitting in the audience in my best dress, watching the conductor lead our local symphony in the opening music. Having never heard a live symphony before, I was enchanted. But there happened to be a fellow seated just behind us who, apparently, was not. First came the theatrical sighs, then the exaggerated shifting in his seat. Then a few rather vociferous groans until finally his irritation could no longer be contained. He stood to his feet and yelled out for all to hear....”Get the guy in the monkey suit off the stage!”. Mother was offended. Daddy laughed. And I learned an interesting lesson that day - some people simply cannot abide stepping outside the realm of their experience, even for something as wonderful as the symphony.
I was reminded of this last weekend while watching the film Tree of Life. A couple at the end of the aisle could not seem to rein in their displeasure at what they were seeing on the screen and voiced their feelings through various groans and sighs, peppered with the occasional guffaw. Blessedly, less than a third of the way through the film, they left the theatre.
Now granted, this is not a typical summer movie. A remarkable work from director Terence Malick, Tree of Life unabashedly asks the hard questions, those we hear asked by the soul in the dead of night. It is a film that questions God about death as well as life, about our connection to each other, about our place in the world. It is non-linear and impressionistic. It is sincere. It is beautiful. Yes, it is a cerebral work that requires both thought and sensitivity from the viewer, but its rewards are great. I have turned it over in my mind for days, gleaning something new each time that I do.
Thinking about the fellow from that long ago concert as well as the movie couple of this past week has made me wonder. What is it about beauty that makes some of us so uncomfortable, even angry? Why do some of us ridicule the unfamiliar while others embrace the new with open hearts and minds? The elegiac words found at the very top of this post are heard at the opening of Tree of Life and they are the fabric on which each subsequent scene is embroidered.
I rather think they represent the ultimate question for mankind.
Which will it be?
Nature or grace?
When Tree of Life was shown at Cannes in May, some in the audience jeered.
The film went on to win the Palme d’Or, the highest prize of the festival.
Obviously it is a universal question.

Photo above: Trees in my back garden