This will be the final post from me regarding Tree of Life. The last post, perhaps because of more pressing matters being discussed on the blog, didn’t seem to stir up much discussion and I doubt this one will either. In part I think it is because of the polemical nature of these belated thoughts and because theologians rarely come out of the woodwork to answer to those who cry violence against them. And that is where I’m going to start, the question of violence, and the way in Tree of Life violence is always repressed, always pushed just out of view through the underlying hermeneutic discussed in the last post. And I will also have to respond to one of the reviews of Tree of Life that annoyed me the most and that made it a difficult decision to even go see the film. Continue reading “More Belated Thoughts on Malick’s Tree of Life: Malick’s Glorious Hermeneutics of the Family versus von Trier’s Gnostic Inglourious Basterds”
In my last post on Malick’s Tree of Life I tried to focus in on what I thought was the real greatness of the film. In short, it was taking a story that we all know (that of “the family”) and telling it without telling it. This greatness exists within the tension of the film’s non-didactic elements and its Catholic drive to be cosmically didactic. That cosmic didacticism comes through placing this story of the family in the context of the creation of the universe and when the non-didacticism really slips (as it does most obviously in the evolution montage where we see what is clearly a Penis-Fish and a Vagina-Fish) we see the influence of Catholic nuptial theology upon the film. And it is this influence of nuptial theology that ultimately allows for the worst kind of didacticism to infiltrate the whole of the film. That is the didacticism not only of embarrassingly fawning Christians, but the very threat that, “Only a God can save us (for marriage) now.” This is where Tree of Life becomes the expression of the underlying ideology of family values. Continue reading “Belated Thoughts on Malick’s Tree of Life: The Creepiness of Nuptial Theology”
I saw Tree of Life back when I still lived in Nottingham. It was, in fact, the last movie I watched at Broadway Cinema, by far my favorite cinema in the world. I went knowing too much about the film already because of all the attention it had received, not just by the usual film critics I read but also by the theological blogosphere as well. And so I put off going to see the film in part because so many Christians had prostrated themselves in acts of piety that were only outdone in terms of awkward intersubjective embarrassment by their attempts to squeeze the movie into some pre-fabricated theological fan-fiction they feel they must repeat ad nauseum lest they fall into unbelief. Because of this I found that working up the energy to go see the film was harder than any other film I’ve gone to see.
In order to go I had to, and I’m not kidding, perform phenomenological exercises. I went under the epoche, bracketing what had become my natural attitude regarding the film. A natural attitude I can accurately describe as pure contempt (I love the French word for contempt, méprise, which I think actually, for those who can catch my citation here, bears on Tree of Life). So I went and I watched the film. I think I can even say that I watched it “so hard”. But I found after watching it that I couldn’t yet say anything about it. That would require more routing out of this natural attitude and coming to terms with what any actual critique could be beyond my contempt for the Christian theologians who had conspired – yes, it was a conspiracy! – to ruin this film for me. I think, after nearly three months of waiting I finally can express my thoughts on this film. I’m going to present this as a series of posts, which, for those who may be offended by some of my clearly polemical statements, is a witness to the seriousness with which I am giving this film. Some of these posts may deal more with the Christian theological reading of the film than the film itself, but those will be in part a defence of the movie against Christian theological overdetermination. For those who haven’t seen the film there is clearly going to be spoilers. Continue reading “Belated Thoughts on Malick’s Tree of Life I: The Tension of an Allegory Wishing Not to Be”
The reference to Job is obvious and to the point. I’d suggest an additional inspiration, however: Augustine’s Confessions. It fits amazingly, even down to the commentary on Genesis. Maybe we can talk it out.
In discussing The Tree of Life with people who were planning on seeing it, the perceived necessity of seeing the film alone has frequently come up. Although I normally love discussing movies with The Girlfriend, for instance, I was glad to be able to see it myself so as to aid digestion. I also talked to a friend who was firmly planning to see it without his wife, and I advised another friend to see it without his girlfriend.
Do you notice the pattern here? All of us are men! And all the people we want to see it without are women! Which brings me to an incredibly obvious fact about The Tree of Life that I have not seen discussed as of yet: it is an overwhelmingly and even embarrassingly masculine movie.
§ 1 The charges of anti-materialism seem unfounded to me. Unless, that is, life & its living somehow do not count as “material.” Then, sure, it’s decidedly anti-material.
§ 2 There is an unseemly quality to the film. Rather like you are an intruder on something you should not be privy. By this, I don’t mean there is some secret knowledge conveyed–something ordinarily kept safe and hidden. It’s that the watching the film is akin to watching somebody pray. Even if the one praying don’t care that they’re being seen, there is something not quite awkward but unsettling about the sight of prayer. There’s a guy I see at random hours in my neighborhood who I will come across standing before a tree, sometimes just staring and other times palm extended and gently touching it. I’ve seen him several times now and each time, despite “knowing” he is in some kind of prayerful meditative pose, my initial instinct is to check on his health and well-being. I think it is this internal discord, rather than the mode or object of prayer itself, that makes it so unsettling. Continue reading “Scattered Thoughts About The Tree of Life“