“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. – Job 38:4

I saw the movie TREE OF LIFE (to be abbreviated as TOL) recently, and I am saddened to write this review because I have a feeling that I am among a handful of people out there who feel this way–it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Took my breath away. Gave me a knot in my throat. Brought tears to my eyes.

In a nutshell, the movie seeks to answer the question, how can humans follow a good God who allows bad things to happen? The film offers the answer to this question by splicing together clips from the lives of a family who loses a beloved son (the second of three boys) with interpretive footage from the creation of the earth (and beyond).

Google TOL and you will find that there are several interpretations of the film’s meaning. Based on the reoccurrence of scriptures from the book of Job and from the narrative itself–and, yes, I will argue that the film does contain a narrative, disjointed as it may be–I would argue that the film suggests the following about evil in the world: God, who existed before anything else did, is incomprehensible to humans and, thus, there are going to be events in our lives that we do not understand. To live peaceably in the midst of these events and with oneself, humans must accept God’s ways with grace. In so many words, humans have a limited point of view, and we oftentimes don’t live long enough to see, or simply miss, the good that God brings from evil. It is grace alone that gives us this acceptance.

The film also offers a counterpoint to this explanation–nature. Nature denies the existence of God and grace–but not religion–and it explains life’s events as the natural progression of human effort. Nature is essentially the force within every human that drives survival and the pursuit of material gain. As the film illustrates through the characters played by Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, if a human being indulges nature alone, and denies grace, s/he will never experience the peace and spiritual fulfillment that comes from knowing God.

I loved all 139 minutes of this film, but I found the last few minutes to be confounding. I could be wrong here, but I think the last minutes of this film metaphorically communicate that Sean Penn’s character accepts grace, accepts the loss of his brother, and comes to an understanding of how his mother coped with losing his brother.

If you haven’t seen TOL, I urge you to. If you saw the film and didn’t like it, or didn’t understand it, then please give it some time and thought. I think this film is an easy target for ridicule. Don’t take the easy way out. Wrestle with it.

 
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