Friday, March 2, 2012

Scenes #12: Songs In The Tree Of Life

"I heard there was a secret cord/ That David played and it pleased the lord"

Leonard Cohen 

One of the most common interpretations of Tree Of Life is that Brad Pitt is supposed to stand in for God. Or at the very least the God of the Old Testament. A figure of mystery and power, who occasionally dispenses some good advice. Someone who you know loves you but also scares the shit out of you.

It's an interpretation I have a hard time buying given that Pitt's character seems far too specific to be a mere symbol. Frankly there's a lot of my Dad in Pitt's character. The same love. The same drive. The same deeply rooted unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Which is part of what made Tree such an experience for me. 

But in this one scene the reading just works too well not to take it. But even then it can only be read partially. If Pitt in this sequence is God he's also the Father as well. 

And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. Then Saul would feel better, and the tormenting spirit would go away. 1: Samuel 16:23

Pitt's Father is defined as a man without peace. Driven always by a tormenting "spirit". This is one of the few moments in Tree where Pitt is truly contented. For all his monologues and life lessons its one of the few times he's truly in touch with those he loves.

Yet even in this moment the seeds of discord are being sown. Note Jack in the bottom right of the frame.

And The Lord Respected Able and his offering. But He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. Genesis 4:5

Recently released production art has shown that Malick planned, if not shot a Cain and Able sequence to go between the dinosaur sequence and the return to Waco. I can only hope the rumored six hour cut (which I would watch in a heart beat) restores it, just because of how well it would reflect this scene.

It's a moment of communication, that is to say communion, between Father and Son that happens with a naturalness, ease and completeness that Jack knows he is incapable of. RL's beatific smile is a slap in the face.

He does not have his brother's ability to forgive and bear the wounds. For Jack knowing his father will always be a war, one that according to the present day sequences will last the rest of their lives. The Gulf between Father and Son, God and Man. The longing for reconciliation that lies on both sides. Some can cross it with something as simple as a song.

And some can only look.


StephenM said...

^^Isn't it weird when spam sites offer basically intelligent, worthwhile comments? Reminds me of this:

This is such a beautiful little scene. Of course, every single scene in this movie is beautiful. I don't think Pitt represents God, but I do think the parallels are intentional. One way of describing the point of the movie might go thusly: everything at every level of creation is reflecting something higher up, as well as lower down. It's like fractals. The relationship between sons and fathers and between brothers is an eternal one, always bringing conflict, always bringing possible love and redemption. This story reflects in miniature aspects of the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and Jonathan, etc. As such, even this typical Texan 1950s family is sacred, containing a microcosm of the story of the entire world, just as the spiral of a galaxy is reflected in the spiral of a shell, or a canyon, or a church window (all connected mathematically, no doubt, by the Golden Ratio).

Man I love this movie.

Bryce Wilson said...

Truly bizarre.

That was very well put Stephen couldn't have said it better myself.