Discussing the theology of ‘The Tree of Life’

Posted by · 11:29 pm · June 22nd, 2011

Fox Searchlight is really outdoing itself on “The Tree of Life.” When the studio picked up the title last year, I knew it was in caring hands. But I never really expected such pristine handling every step of the way.

Tonight Searchlight held bi-coastal panel discussions with religious and non-religious leaders to discuss differing perspectives and interpretations of the theological themes within the film. “Insights, Inspirations & Impact” was the name of the program, and I was on hand for the Landmark Theatre discussion in West L.A. this evening.

The panelists included Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, Dr. Robert K. Johnston of the Fuller Theological Seminary and author of “Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue”; Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple (a bit of a celebrity in his own right); Scott Young, executive director of the University Religious Conference at UCLA; Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center for Southern California; and Jim Hosney, Professor of Literature at the American Film Institute. The panel was moderated by spiritual author Erwin Raphael McManus.

It was a lovely discussion packed with this and that profound insight into Malick’s film. Rather than offer a few quotes I figured I’d record the proceedings and offer it up to you hear. Check it out below (and forgive the hideous audio difficulties with the microphones — these things never go accordingly on the technical side of things). It’s lengthy at close to an hour. They were also filming it, so I imagine it’ll pop up on foxsearchlight.com at some point.

You can also check out @foxsearchlight on Twitter to re-read the play-by-play from the east coast discussion.  Fascinating stuff on the whole and evidence of a distributor going above and beyond the call of duty for what is clearly much more than merely a product to them.

Also, as a reminder, don’t forget to enter our haiku contest for a chance to win the film’s poster.


[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

→ 7 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

7 responses so far

  • 1 6-23-2011 at 7:07 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    I plan on seeing it again shortly.

  • 2 6-23-2011 at 11:13 am

    Jim T said...

    Saw it yesterday. Lovely disscussion. I feel like there a million things to say about this movie or inspired by this movie.

  • 3 6-23-2011 at 1:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Very good discussion, but unfortunately yet another one that gets bogged down by the insistence of the beach sequence being an afterlife. I’m also quite surprised at how many people think the film ends with a shot of sunflowers. Not the case.

    I’d like to hear some views on the film from a Buddhist or Taoist perspective, seeing as there are strong parallels to those belief systems throughout.

  • 4 6-23-2011 at 4:55 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I wanted to mention that the scenes in the end are less of an afterlife thing (to me), at least in the literal, than an abstract representation of the catharsis that comes with a break from the physical world, but I didn’t bother.

  • 5 6-23-2011 at 6:25 pm

    James D. said...

    A film that sparks scholarly discussion. Things are suddenly looking up in the world.

  • 6 6-23-2011 at 7:44 pm

    Bryan said...

    My take on the end:

    The film leaves the ‘50’s behind and transition into what many critics seem to rashly dub the ‘heaven sequence,’ a beach of souls young and old reunited in love. The Christian overtones of the entire film are apparent, from the Job references, to the title, to ideas espoused in whispered voiceovers. But the ideology is abstract and organic, and I don’t think this ending sequence is anything more than a heightened realization of the adult Jack reconciling himself to the questions that spun the story into existence in the first place. Critics call the sequence kitsch, overkill, and it indeed might be if it were Malick’s, but it belongs to the adult Jack, and the final shot of the film—a suspension bridge over water—appears to be reconciling too, the manmade and natural, the nature and grace.

  • 7 6-23-2011 at 9:57 pm

    Chris138 said...

    I agree with Kris about the beach sequence being more of a personal catharsis than a vision of the afterlife. I saw an excerpt from the script a few weeks ago where it was written as the ‘shores of eternity’.

    Nonetheless, I do consider this to be the weakest part of the film despite Malick’s intentions.