"The Tree of Life" has been lauded by many Christians for carrying Biblical themes, yet at the same time it divides believers for that very reason.
What exactly do the themes mean? What does a 1950s devout Christian family have to do with the dinosaur era and an influx of a symphonic celestial intermission?
The impressionistic film – starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and newcomer Jessica Chastain – opens with a quote from the book of Job and the death of a woman’s son. We don’t really know yet who dies but the pain and suffering transcends even in the absence of dialogue.
The mother who loses her son questions her faith in God. Just as Job was tested, would she renounce her faith in God amid her suffering?
The universal question ultimately becomes: why would God allow bad things to happen to good people.
The movie continues with flashbacks of her oldest son’s past where we get to meet his father, who seems to show little emotion over his son’s death.
Pitt plays a harsh father who believes that tough love is the best way to turn a boy into a strong man. His cold discipline naturally results in resentment by his three sons, especially the oldest, Jack, who is later played by Sean Penn. As an adult, Jack is haunted by his father's discipline despite being a successful man.
His mother, on the other hand, is a woman who is the essence of goodness, love, and grace. Her selfless love and her sincere servitude to her family are by far the most beautiful scenes in the film. When his father leaves on a trip, we see her not only as the epitome of a nurturing mother, but also her childlike spirit.
The boys’ innocent childhood is interwoven with scenes of cosmic images pertaining to the universe’s formation.
We witness the 160 million year period from when dinosaurs reigned the planet to the point of their extinction. The question of life forces the audience to wonder, how are human beings different? What is the meaning of it all when everything is created to die?
The film is directed and written by two-time Oscar nominee Terrence Malick, who is famous for his movie, “The New World,” based on the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. “The Tree of Life” recently won the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The complexities of the film and the slow plot make it difficult for the general audience to truly understand the Biblical narrative. Most characters will talk more through voice-overs than with each other. It will leave viewers, just like most critics, with more questions than answers.