Written by Michael Trieb.
As a Christian, it’s easy to become frustrated by movies that are geared toward the Christian market. What is their purpose? Are they designed to be purely evangelistic, therefore throwing vital factors like quality and depth out the window? We all know the movies of which I speak; Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous are a few that immediately come to mind. The big question is, are there any movies out there with depth and artistic integrity that also somehow find a way to represent the love of Christ? Is there a way to rephrase that question in a way that isn’t painful to read?
A couple summers ago, a movie directed by Terrence Malick was released called The Tree of Life. The movie, starring actors Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, is an exploration of themes like life, death, family, and devotion. It is a primarily non-linear movie, constructed on a plot about the progression of a young couple and the birth and upbringing of their three sons in 1950’s Texas. The film’s biggest underlying theme is of faith and creation’s relationship with the creator.
What made the film such a spectacle, and why many audience members up and left shortly after the movie began, was the style of story telling that director Terrence Malick employed. Certain ticket buyers must have seen Brad Pitt’s name on the posters and were expecting a movie commanded by a plot with a beginning, middle, and end; a plot with a protagonist, antagonist, exposition, climax, resolution, etc. Instead, Malick presents his work of art by presenting dazzling camera angles on subjects of nature, of human growth and development, galactic space scenes, and other various nature landscapes. Basically, much of the movie is eye candy, depicting the creation of the earth and the personal and psychological development of man and family.
I walked away from the movie theater three hours later with a new favorite movie. Never before has a movie challenged me spiritually as much as Malick’s film did. Before, my soul has been moved by music, by sermons, by friends and family, but not as much by movies. The Tree of Life showed the contrast between the two halves of God’s creation (man and nature), and demonstrated that nature has remained beautiful throughout the years, but man has become corrupt and sinful in a place where the Creator did not intend. This artistic and cinematic quality that went into this movie confirmed to me that movies are not just things to be critiqued by stiffs, but they are created to move, to touch the viewer.
What exactly was it about this movie that communicated the sovereignty of God to me? First of all, I would say that the film doesn’t come across as an obnoxious attempt at converting Christ-less movie-goers. It’s not a thinly-veiled attempt at altering someone’s philosophical or spiritual beliefs. In other words, the film is not preachy. The actors are not (from what I understand) Christians. But somehow (imagine this), God is able to use anybody he wants in order to communicate His love to people. It was the honest depiction of the human condition that really spoke to me. It was the scene where the little boy is at his bedside praying typical childhood prayers, while his same voice is narrating questions his soul is truly asking: “Are you real? You let a boy die. Why should I be good when You aren’t?”
The movie, as previously mentioned, is non-linear and jumps around on the storyline, as well as shows scenes of (what I gather as being) the creation of the Earth. This is not a movie that is spoon-fed to the audience. It’s not always easy to digest, and it does require some thought-out discussion and contemplation to really gain all you can from it. This, to me, is how movies invoking the spirit of God SHOULD be. They shouldn’t be cute little perfect stories. People are turned off by those kinds of movies for just being plain unrealistic.
I wish I could thank Malick for making such an impressive film, not only in its direction and cinematography, but in the soul of the film which certainly connected with my own.