Grief and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life – A Reflective Essay

This week I learned that a new version of Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life was being released as part of the Criterion Collection. This is very pointedly being billed as a new version and not simply a director’s cut. It is 49 minutes longer and focuses more on the young Jack’s relationship with his father to explore elements of “toxic masculinity.”

“What’s interesting talking to Terry about this [new version of ‘Tree of Life’], I think he still doesn’t want people to think this is a better version. This is another version,” Criterion technical director Lee Kline told us earlier this month. “He said, ‘No one asked Bob Dylan to play a song the same way every night. Why should I have to make one film?’”

As I have been thinking of taking this blog into a phase of focusing exclusively on writing over photography (aside from illustrations), I thought it would be a good idea to present an essay about The Tree of Life which first appeared in the now mothballed Catapult Magazine.

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To say that Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life is about grief is a little like saying the Hamlet is about revenge. The statements are true enough, and yet they do not do justice to the richness of themes and majestic sweep of each of these works. Nevertheless, experiencing grief or suffering is the principal theme of The Tree of Life, and the inception, history and resolution of the central cause for grief in the film provide its structure, interwoven with amazing sequences which describe nothing short of the birth, life and death of the Earth itself.

In the very opening frame of the film, Malick provides a key for the viewer to understand how the relatively small story of the grief of a family in Texas will be interwoven with the very large story of the lifespan of the Earth by quoting from the ancient book of Job (38: 4,7):

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?…

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of

God shouted for joy.

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“Therefore, do not fear”

Last night I was closing up the church after the funeral of a dearly loved member and noticed someone had left one light on in the sanctuary. It made for lovely images both outside and in. And it encouraged me to know again that through faith in Jesus and his resurrection, I need not fear.

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The King of Love My Shepherd is – Woodwork and Stained Glass – New Perfect Peace Missionary Baptist Church – St. Louis, MO

This album is a bit of a proof of concept as I shot these with a 50mm lens. I would really like to shoot with these with a zoom lens sometime and from a more perpendicular perspective and a tripod. The styles of these windows vary. Some are quite extraordinary.

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