AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Catholic News
Saints
Seasonal
Special Reports
Movies
Shopping
Donate
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Tree of Life

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


Jessica Chastain and Tye Sheridan star in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life."
For his fifth movie, reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick takes as his subject nothing less than the universe and our place within it. A metaphysical rumination that gives free rein to the writer-director's impressionistic style and background as a philosophy professor, "The Tree of Life" (Fox Searchlight) is consistently beautiful and often moving.

Ultimately, however, the ambitious effort proves vague and unsatisfying because of its overly schematic premise—the juxtaposition of nature and grace—and glancing endorsement of New Age spirituality rather than belief in God.

While not attempting to definitively explain the mystery of existence, Malick is trying to be comprehensive and so hedges his bets by proffering a message of love consistent with Christianity (and many other worldviews) as well as a theologically suspect paean to nature.

The bulk of the film concerns Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), a Texas couple raising three boys during the 1950s. After opening with a quote from Job and showing the O'Briens in the wake of a tragic loss, Malick sketches a portrait of a strict father who, frustrated professionally, has grown cynical. In opposition, Mrs. O'Brien remains kindly and gentle, a model of maternal sympathy and warmth.

Their eldest son, Jack (played by newcomer Hunter McCracken), bristles at his father's discipline and tests typical coming-of-age boundaries. We also glimpse the grown-up Jack (Sean Penn), a rather morose architect weighed down by an inchoate sense of guilt.

Woven throughout these comparatively traditional passages are abstract sequences depicting the origins of the universe and changes in the natural world. Using extensive special effects for the first time, Malick creates primordial imagery on both the cellular and cosmic levels—celestial fantasias, microscopic mutations, roiling gases, colorful seascapes and desert vistas. There's even a scene featuring dinosaurs. Everything is accompanied by composer Alexandre Desplat's exquisite music, much of it sacred-sounding choral work.

From a theological standpoint, "The Tree of Life" is best described as deeply spiritual but not religious. Although there are numerous references to God—in fact, the characters often address him directly in voice-over narration—Malick's agnosticism appears to win out. He leaves the door open to God, yet seems equally willing to endorse a form of pantheism or animism that puts the natural world and mankind on equal footing.

As in his two most recent films, "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World," Malick's camera repeatedly points upward to the sky. Despite the visual precision and fluidity of "The Tree of Life," we're left wondering exactly what he sees up there.

Although it contains no morally objectionable content, the film's mature subject matter and eschewal of plot and dialogue in favor of mood and imagery make it a better fit for cinephiles than mainstream audiences.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



Search reviews at CatholicMovieReviews.org


Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus







Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but she oon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p>
American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Spiritual Questions, Catholic Advice
Fr. John's advice on Catholic spiritual questions will speak to your soul and touch your heart.
New from Franciscan Media!
By reflecting on Pope Francis's example and words, you can transform your own life and relationships.
New from Servant Books!
Follow Jesus with the same kind of zeal that Paul had, guided by Mark Hart and Christopher Cuddy!
Wisdom for Women

Learn how the life and teachings of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) serve as a guide for women’s unique vocations today.

A Wild Ride

Enter the world of medieval England in this account of a rare and courageous woman, Margery Kempe, now a saint of the Anglican church.


 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
I'm Sorry
Asking for forgiveness begins the healing process. Let a Catholic Greetings e-card help you take this first step.
St. Ignatius Loyola
The founder of the Society of Jesus is also a patron of all who were educated by the Jesuits.
Vacation
Remember when summer seemed to last forever? Send a Catholic Greetings e-card to share that memory.
Love
Love is a daily miracle, just like our heartbeat.
Birthday
Subscribers to Catholic Greetings Premium Service can create a personal calendar to remind them of important birthdays.



Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic