The perfect ending to a year of inevitable change and attempts at reconciliation: The Tree of Life (2011), written and directed by Terrence Malick. As 2011 draws to a close, we find ourselves sifting through remnants of civil resistance, social and political unrest, deaths of powerful leaders; these are the realities of a humanity that struggles under the weight of unresolved conflict, an insatiable hunger for even the simplest resources, and a yearning for narrative, a personal story that will render our existence in this world somehow worthwhile.
The Tree of Life shatters these realities with gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, and visuals that only seem to appear in dreams. High and low angles present impossible perspectives, soaring, falling, literally free-wheeling through time and space. We feel small. We feel humble. We forget who we are, what we do, how we wish to believe that we are perceived, and we allow the film to drench us in life, light, and love.
Then, slowly, miraculously, The Tree of Life helps us in this universal process of reconciliation. We try to make sense of dissonance, to find meaning within a narrative that is not and can not ever be linear. Instead, the narrative is explained by two divergent, spiraling paths: nature and grace. Nature is violent, headstrong, and unforgiving. Grace chooses instead to accept and to keep faith. The story is told through the memories of a family growing up in Texas in the 1950s. Each moment is specific, but these vignettes are universal experiences of first life, love, sickness, death, and beyond.
This is a film of tremendous ambition, seeking to explore nothing less than the entirety of the human condition. Go see this film, and try to catch a re-run in theaters if you can (I was lucky enough to screen it at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square last night). Each frame is a visual treat, and each scene is somewhat of a small emotional epiphany. Best film of 2011, hands down.