Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Of Being Haunted by The Tree of Life

I had been waiting to watch this movie 'Tree of Life' by Terence Malick ever since the buzz around it at the Cannes. Tree of Life is Terence Malick's sixth film as a director in a career spanning over four decades!! I had watched it last month and wanted to write ever since but am still trying to make sense of what I saw!! 

After watching, I will say that I did not understand the film at all!! Maybe only 10% of it. You are not going to understand what is going on the film, even if you do you cannot be sure is this what the director really wants to convey this to you?! I have tried to understand what the film is trying to say through opinions of other people and the more I read, the more I am able to develop a faint idea of what the film is about.

The film is basically about a family in America comprising a strict father, a compassionate mother, and their three children. The film's premise is based on the following quote - 

"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end."

And incidentally, these are the very questions that I have been trying to find answers to. The film tries to say that there is an equilibrium between nature and grace and none can exist without the other. 

In addition, Malick creates some spell binding visuals trying to re-create the Big Bang theory. They are simply out of this world. Malick raises existentialist questions about what is the purpose of our life? Why do we have to suffer? Where does God come into play? Does God really take care of us?

Bradd Pitt said some beautiful lines about the film, he said "And then there is the bigger questions of the impermanence of life that I think we all go through. I grew up being told that God's going to take care of everything and it doesn't always work out that way, and when it doesn't work out that way then we're told it's God's will. Many people find religion to be something very inspiring and leads them to opportunities. I myself find it very stifling."

Someone said that - 
As intense, real, and important the suffering of this family is to these characters, in the greater scale of things…it doesn’t matter. A human lifetime doesn’t even represent a nanosecond in the history of the cosmos. How important could any of our individual lives, let alone our suffering within those lives, be?

And this is what I have been thinking for the last few days. Do any of our problems really matter? Does any one care four our suffering? At the end of it, we are just a tiny speck in this universe. How are things going to change even if you die? Human life ain't that important. We just have to choose the path of nature or the path of grace and try to live our lives fully.

In one of the scenes most powerful and confusing scene, we see two dinosaurs. One of the dinosaurs is injured and almost dying. Passing by is another predatory and a much larger dinosaur who then comes and sees the injured dinosaur. Then the larger dinosaur forces its clawed foot onto the wounded dinosaur either in an attempt to stomp it to death or suffocate it. Suddenly, the predatory dinosaur instead of killing him, gives a couple of affectionate taps on the head, and hops away. Why did he do that? Out of compassion? This is the lager point the film is trying to make that compassion is not only in humans, it exists in the world everywhere. The path we choose is solely ours. This is how someone brilliantly put it:

The dinosaur scene is emblematic for the movie, since it symbolizes that through humility, calmness of the mind and non- aggressiveness one can defeat the aggressor or at least bring reason into him/her. Another point of view might be, that efficient and violent as it is, nature has some grace in itself... one animal can completely "irrational" "choose" to not eat the other, because its weak. You can, indeed, observe this in nature sometimes... The implications of those two are that no matter if one is facing the ultimate evil, one shouldn't use the means of evil to defeat it, and more importantly one shouldn't be afraid of it. The dinosaur could have succumbed to Nature and eaten the other, but it didn't. Instead it demonstrated compassion. I think that is the message of the movie: you can choose to turn away from desire, anger, and hate. You can embrace compassion, love and grace.

There is this amazing quote comes in the film:

The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.

I want to be happy ya :(

The film will continue to bother you even hours later. Watch it and get haunted! ..and explain me some more of it :(

P.S. - I had met P when I went to watch this. He also did not understand it..and D told me this was the first move he ever walked out of. But I did not hate it. Like I did not hate Saawariya. Infact, the more I read about it, the more I like it :)


  1. Another masterpeice from Pank's Pen...simply loved it...firstly for choosing a topic to write about and answering lot of questions which were there in my mind... i found my answers....thanks panks...u Rock!!!

  2. Thanks ya but isme maine to kuch likha hi nahi..mujhe to bahut kam samajh ayi..aapko aa jayegi :) Is it you Arps as anonymous?

  3. Seems to be a very interesting movie. As always a very well written post, which also gives an apt review of the Tree of Life. I loved the way you described the scene with dinosaurs.

    PS: From the looks of it, the first comment seems to be from Arps only :)

  4. @Aastha You should watch it and write a review that you do brilliantly, and make me understand the movie :)

  5. Haan yaar main hi hu...pata nahi kyu main log in ahi kar paa rahi apne id se:(...anyays...thaNks for recognising me guys...!!! Panks tumne likha toh mujhe pata chala about TOLoderwise main oh kabhi sochti bhi nahi try maarne ki u know ...now i feel i shld wath it:)

  6. Sorry for typo error...my laptop key sucks!!!


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