What purpose does it serve for me that time and space are exactly the same thing? I ask a guy what time it is, he tells me “Six Miles”?! [What's] that? — Woody Allen (Dobel), Anything Else

on the shelf...

Planned books:

Current books:

  • Earth Unaware (The First Formic War)

    Earth Unaware (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston

  • The Jungle Book

    The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Recent books:

View full Library

Job and the Tree of Life

Review: The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick.
Format: Film.
Viewing: Aircraft. UA963 (FRA->IAD). Thanks United.
Rating (of 5): 3.0

This is my first Malick film and as I sit here typing this out, about half an hour after having watched it, I think it’s something that I’ll be thinking on for some time. That means it’s a good one. What bothers me, or maybe bothers is the wrong term, “worries” is better. What worries me is that there must be a lot of folks out there despairing much like Jack (Sean Penn) in the film. And the question, posed at the start of the film from Job serves to upset and cause further turmoil in those people. I think Malick is trying to make some sense of it through the wonder of creation itself, but might be missing the point of the quote. The sermon in the film also seems to misunderstand Job and his role as well. So let me see if I can try and explain it as I see it.

Let’s start with the quote:

Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
–Job 38:4,7

Malick follows this up with the first sequence of natural scenes ranging from Hubble telescope shots, to super-close-ups of volcanoes and submerged vegetation. He opens with a close shot of a candle in the darkness. Mrs. O’Brien then explains that life is a choice between grace and nature, with a choice between them. The path of grace is humble and the path of nature is direct and self-serving, wanting “its own way” and “finds reasons to be unhappy … when love is shining through all things”. Malick sets up the tension between Mr O’Brien and Mrs O’Brien and between the brothers by following these two paths. He uses nature scenes ranging from Hubble closeups to submerged vegetation to illustrate the awesome power of creation, as if to say that no amount of human suffering or joy can match the power that brought this world into existence. The sermon on Job in the middle act of the film points to the same: that the Lord points out Job’s insignificance to help him understand where he sits in relation to the heavens. He uses animals (and Mr O’Brien is an animal in this sense) to illustrate the passions of the natural man.

Perhaps the most touching illustration of grace comes in the cgi-rendered dinosaur scene, where one raptor comes across a suffering compatriot and chooses the path of mercy instead of attacking as the scene and score lead us to suspect. What’s important to see in this scene, is that choice is given to the dinosaurs … as if creation itself echoes Mrs O’Brien’s dualistic world.

I think the point of choice is crucial to understanding the quote and creation generally, but I want to try and explain a bit about the plan of salvation which Job understood and the Lord is explaining. The Lord is asking Job literally where he was during these events. And the answer is given in the same quote: Job, as a son of God, was present at the foundation of the earth and joined in the chorus of the morning stars. The Lord is saying that Job chose the path of mortality as a natural stage in his progression. One that would require him to come to earth and experience everything that the natural world could give him: pleasure, pain, joy, despair, love, heartbreak, good, and evil. The Lord wisely points out the same power that created the awesome world we live in — the world that blurs between natural and man-made by the end of the film — is the same power that gives him the power to choose any path at all. This means that life is not an end to itself, but merely a stage in a much longer eternal progression. The Lord reminds Job throughout that suffering is precisely what was chosen in the pre-existence in order that we might prove ourselves (Abr 3:24-27). But what Malick is missing, and Jack illustrates well throughout the film, is the second piece of the promise made to Job, that by choosing to follow the direction of the Lord, especially through the troubled times of this life, Job would be “accepted” of the Lord. Job is privileged to see the Lord with his own eyes, and is restored “more than his beginning” (Job 40).

The Tree of Life is not two-branched, with humilty and love on one side, reaching ever toward the sun, and rigid, gnarled on the other, holding tight the tree to the earth. Rather it is many branched, where each and every choice we make serves to bring us along the path of progression that our Father in Heave set out before us. Malick is right that we have the right to choose. God would “cease to be God” (Alma 42:22) were that not the case. Indeed, choice, itself helps us to learn and grow and branch and continue on past this life, past despair and sadness, into acceptance and salvation in the mansions of our Father.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>