‘Tree of Life,’ divine suffering, etc.


Model Review

With his brilliant review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (August 12), Richard Alleva provides further evidence that he is the most gifted film critic appearing regularly in the Catholic press. Alleva is insightful and yet cautious in analyzing Malick’s very demanding film.

The Tree of Life, more than any other film I know of, depicts and explores the mystery of being human and the depth of the divine. Alleva points out that some of the artistic devices Malick uses tackle a most difficult philosophical and religious question: Why, if there is a loving Creator, do humans suffer? For example, Alleva notes that in the first twenty minutes of the film, Malick employs a small amount of dialogue, mournful music, and special lighting to draw us into an intimate identification with a family’s grief. Those twenty minutes are the beginning of an experience that is, I suspect, unique in the history of cinema. Our identification with the family continues throughout the film. Malick never distances us from their struggles and so, though we are observers, much of what we observe is ourselves. Even in scenes that we may not be able to explain completely, the director has our attention. Though he observes and comments, he never removes or solves the mystery.

In his comments, Alleva mirrors Malick’s approach: he points to the depth of The Tree...

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