Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tree of Life, continued

Well, the conversation about the Tree of Life movie is apparently just beginning (see previous post). You can check out the laudatory appraisal in Christian Century, but you have to be a subscriber and frankly, it's a pretty thin piece of work. A better review is that by Ross Douthat. He praises it to the skies, but likes The New World even better.

One of the New York Times film critics, Stephen Holden, picked it as the movie to see this summer. His opening line describes how the "mostly older" audience sat hushed and rapt as if they were in church. Maybe that's the idea. But Holden thinks it's a takedown of a patriarchal God. He writes inevitably of the "fearsome, unpredictable Old Testament God"...sigh. I don't have any hope that my new Old Testament book (And God Spoke to Abraham) will make any inroads against this tiresome misunderstanding--certainly the Times man won't read it--but I have done my best.

If the "God of Job" is as awful (as distinguished from awe-ful) as Holden assumes, then what is his relationship to the forgiving figure on the beach at the end whose feet Brad Pitt embraces? If that sort of separation between the Father and the Son is really what the director is doing, then I like the movie even less than before. But who knows, at this stage, what Malick is up to? Maybe he will give us an interview. Anyway, the debate will go on and will, perhaps, gain in depth. (Full disclosure: I was asked to review it for The Living Church but turned down the opportunity. I don't have time or energy to see it twice more and then write a serious, lengthy piece. I am still working on my Cross book, trying to wrestle 750+ pages into shape.)

Maybe I am wrong about the movie. I may change my mind. But I'm not going to change my mind about the overbearing use of so much blockbuster classical music (most of which I adore in the proper context).

I continue to recommend Malick's New World with its meticulous adhering to what we know of the historical story, combined with lyrical and, admittedly, languid camera work through the landscape of my native part of Virginia. An approximation of Pocahontas' language was reconstructed for the film, and as I wrote earlier, the Indian Princess' appearance at the English court in her authentic historical costume at the end is breathtaking (her husband, John Rolfe, being a commoner, had to come in the back door, so to speak).