Interpreting the “Tree of Life” Film: Interfaith Reflections

It was my privilege to partner with FOX Searchlight films to create a special screening and panel discussion on Terrence Malick’s stunning new film “Tree of Life” last week. The film is more of a piece of art, a prayer, or an experience than just a film. I’m still thinking about it, and my day is made better just by remembering some of the images and voices that I experienced in the film.

I am shocked at the way that some people react to this film — especially people of faith who should be able to grasp some of its faith-filled deeper meanings and symbolism. If you go to this film with the expectation that it is going to entertain  you, or tell you a good story, you’re going to be disappointed. This film is not about words. It is not just about story. It is about the power of image to move us and even overwhelm us.

Roger Ebert’s review remains the best treatment that I’ve read about the film (also linked here on my blog), but this panel, moderated by Mosaic’s Erwin McManus, teased out some of the deeper truths of the film. The panelists included Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, Dr. Robert K. Johnston of the Fuller Theological Seminary and author of “Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue”; Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple (a bit of a celebrity in his own right); Scott Young, executive director of the University Religious Conference at UCLA; Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center for Southern California; and Jim Hosney, Professor of Literature at the American Film Institute. The panel was moderated by spiritual author Erwin Raphael McManus. Listen to it here:

http://incontention.com/2011/06/22/discussing-the-theology-of-the-tree-of-life/

I hope you will see the film, listen to the panel, and share this film with all of those who need to be reminded that tragedy and beauty, brokenness and forgiveness, are woven together in a cosmic dance. They are the way the universe functions, and they are the way that leads to love, relatedness, and ultimately, home.

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3 Responses to “Interpreting the “Tree of Life” Film: Interfaith Reflections”
  1. Debbie Pauls says:

    Hi, Todd,

    Dale and I were also very moved by the images and voices of prayer in this movie. It might not be a favorite for everyone because it is not linear; but it is beautiful, spiritually thoughtful, and wonderfully acted. I was grateful to have read a review in the NY Times before seeing it, as it allowed me to adjust my expectations away from narrative to the visual, spiritual experience.

    Debbie

  2. Aaron Campbell says:

    Well, as you know, I didn’t really enjoy this movie. I am a person of faith and I understand the concept, but the whole thing made me nervous–anxious as I watched what seemed to be hours of volcanos, icerbergs, raindrops, dinasours, etc, etc, etc. I felt like the directors must have written the script with something like “Show scenes of destruction—ad nauseam.” At first, I enjoyed the bit of liturgy or prayer during these scenes, but it was just too much of a good thing. I might have enjoyed it more had I read a review or just watched the preview.

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