Tree of Life (2011) – Cheese is Bad for You

Tree of Life begins with both a question and a tentative answer.  The question comes from the Book of Job:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

The context of this line is slightly peculiar but, for the moment, we can interpret it as being existential in nature: It is a demand for explanation. Where were you? Where am I? Who am I? Teasingly, Malick provides an initial answer in the form of a voice-over.  There are, we are told, two paths in life: a path of Grace and a path of Nature. The path of Grace, the voice-over explains, is fearless, rewarding and free from self-doubt and self-awareness.  It is a path that one walks seemingly without being aware that one is walking a path. Tellingly, Malick neither tightens his question nor the concept of Grace that he offers as a potential solution.  Nor does he ever bother to explain what the path of Nature might entail. One way of reading this hand-waving is by assuming that Malick is challenging his audience: What is Grace? What is Nature? How do you walk these paths? How does walking these paths answer the fundamental existential questions of being? All will be revealed in the film that follows. However, I will argue that Malick’s evasiveness is the entire point of the film. In life, answers are fleeting and all attempts to seek clear answers are doomed to end merely in more questions. Tree of Life suggests that no matter which type of cheese (be it ‘happiness’, ‘enlightenment’, ‘Grace’ or ‘union with the Godhead’) we seek, life will always be a maze.

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