The Tree of Life, Directed by Terrence Malick
Fox Searchlight Pictures, May 27, 2011 (US)
Screenplay: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain
To be read aloud, in a whisper …
In requiem, the solemn hum of a chorus chants condolences into an answering machine until the machine is full and can hold no more. It’s not right, not right. Of course it’s not right. Shock and anger sideswipe sympathy. Fighting against the undertow, the panic of grief takes hold, clutching … suffocating …
Father Haynes (Kelly Koonce): He’s in God’s hands now.
Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain): He was in God’s hands the whole time.
She says the light will find its way. The light is immortal, she says, as he is immortal, swimming parallel to the shore, not fighting against the pull.
The light will find its way. It will sneak in a back window, pulling back the curtain’s dark veil and impossibly, morning will be born and she will be beautiful, a beautiful baby girl. Sunlight will glaze golden silhouettes over two tiny feet. Tickled by the warm rays, itsy-bitsy toes will wiggle in response, as if they are actually real and alive …
R.L. (Laramie Eppler): Tell us a story from before we can remember.
Mrs. O’Brien: We went for a ride in a plane once. It was a graduation present.
We were adrift in clouds, making our way BACK to a pond that was actually named a lake.
And at the lake that was really a pond, a boy is falling … slipping down and clutching a fistful of weeping willow vines that were supposed to keep him secure as he swung over the dirty muck and back to the safety of the shoreline. But instead they let him fall. HE let him fall, same as the other boy, the one who drowned.
Mrs. O’Brien: Lord, why? Where were you?
There was a storm coming when I continued. They were saying up to 9 inches of heavy, slushy snow. They call it “heart attack” snow.
Steve (Tye Sheridan): Can it happen to anyone?
The thick, creamy reddish-brown blood of a dying dinosaur swirls slowly into a crystal stream under a forest of giant watching trees. There are waterfalls whispering in the serenity of the moment. There is a horrible beauty in the tranquility of the animal’s slow death, the stream’s welcoming acceptance of the draining lava-like blood, and a glowing grace that diffuses the vicious reality of life crossing to death.
And there is a mother’s exploding soul, forced to submit to the piercing light of a new morning that is no longer welcome …
Grandmother (Fiona Shaw): The lord gives and the lord takes away. That’s the way he is. He sends flies to wounds that he should heal.
We were running on a track in P. E. He was with us, chasing bells down crowded halls. Diving from high dives. One day we would hike mountains together. One day we would pray in order to will angels to life.
R.L.: Find me.
Under a limitless sky, planets suspended in gazes and in within the sky, a galaxy of light and wonder, things not entirely understood, like life and death …
Young Jack (Hunter McCracken): Where do you live? Are you watching me? I want to know what you are. I want to see what you see.
Young and wide carnival eyes look up at the same stars and moon that shine brightly over firecracker gangs—confused rabid hooligans—set to wreak havoc across towns.
Mrs. O’Brien: Never do it again. Promise.
It is too late for the frog previously blown to fleshy bits, and too late for innocence lost. But it can’t be too late for everything. It can’t be too late …
Mrs. O’Brien: Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.
There’s a creek that leads to a perfect swimming hole. Like parks and ponds, frogs and firecrackers, there’s always a creek that leads to a perfect pool. There is always laughter. There is always joy in a place where nothing bad can ever happen.
Young Jack: Where were you? You let a boy die. You’ll let anything happen … Why should I be good, if you aren’t?
It is useless to fight against nature, just as it is useless to fight against human nature—the part once full of love and only love. Maybe it really isn’t too late …
Mrs. O’Brien: The only way to be happy is to love. The less you love, your life will flash by. Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.
Man’s connection to and struggle against nature is all around. Like the bridges—breathtaking achievements in structural engineering—that attempt to close the mystery gap in ways physical, spiritual, symbolic. But, crossing at last the great divide, despite successes met along the way, no amount of sweat nor blood nor tears reveals answers to the questions of our lives. Enlightenment is an instinct, shrouded in wisdom behind clouds and rain, somewhere along the path that trails off into the invisible distance between life and death.
The bridges extend from past to present, present to past, from innocence to knowledge and from fear to faith. Surrounding it all is a nature that perpetually mystifies, terrorizes and inspires, exuding life, joy, and wonder, wielding frightening and shocking displays, destroying with ever-humbling ease.
Longing to understand or at least accept their place within a violent and unpredictable rule, they look out from shores along a majestic path that stretches well beyond the limits of mortality. It is a man-made marvel—steel spires, suspended—that directs their glances, connecting them to the fog above. . . .