At the end of the road to Hana, on the island of Maui, there is a place where the pathway ends at the ocean. The deep black rock glistens as the white foam from the pounding sea rises up its jagged face and curls back down into the blue-green depths. As I stood at the edge, watching the violent dance of earth and water, the mist cooling my face, I felt it.
There was a fast-moving storm across the face of a mountain I was skiing. When I got off the chair-lift at the summit, the bright sun against the blue sky reflecting off the white snow was blinding. I skied down into the clouds, hitting a wall of zero visibility, not able to see my hand in front of my face. Courage and gravity took over as I slalomed blindly through the cloud, both panic-stricken and exhilarated. I emerged from the cloud into a near-blizzard, snowflakes pounding my goggles, in mid-day darkness like nuclear summer. There, in those two minutes on that mountain, I felt it.
I feel it when I see a child give affection to an animal. I feel it when a lyric to a song is exactly right. I felt it on 9/11.
I feel it whenever my partner tells me I’ve just put my hand on my face exactly like my mother does.
Humans are connected. To each other, to our planet, and to ourselves. To have an understanding of this connection, in the greater sense (the waves at Hana) and the smaller sense (the hand on my face) is to hold the key to awareness: perspective.
It would be easy to say that The Tree of Life is a meditation on the greater themes of existence and leave it at that. But director/writer Terrence Malick’s visual poem is far more than that. It is the ultimate ode to perspective, a living work of art that examines the individual in the scheme of the whole—from the hand in front of the face to the rocks rising from the ocean.
Malick’s themes are wide-ranging and powerful and the film is not only an ode to perspective, but an ode to beauty and nature, and to the essence of humanity: a desire for understanding, of who we are and where we come from.
There is no way to review The Tree of Life, in the traditional sense, because it is a film that must be felt, individually, and interpreted and evaluated on a personal level. Malick is known for making films that take their time and breathe and The Tree of Life is no different. He in interested in making art, not commerce.
The Tree of Life is an investment. It is over 2 hours of beauty and resonance. You must check everything at the door and take it all in, with no judgment or expectation. This film is an interpretative dance, done with light, color and sound. The best art can expand your mind. The Tree of Life just might expand your soul.