August 21, 2011


The Tree of Life (James Bowman, 7.18.11, American Spectator)

Like the poet John Milton in Paradise Lost, Mr. Malick sets out "to justify the ways of God to man" but seemingly without any recognition of the same disproportion between question and questioner that eludes Derek Parfit and Peter Singer. Like them, Mr. Malick is a man who does not know his own place in the scheme of things -- which is inevitably one of humility before the Creator or at least the reality principle. And just as we suspect they cannot have much to tell us about ethics, so Mr. Malick has little to tell us about God, save for a few banalities about bigness.

Theodicy implies this essential recognition of disproportion. God, we must understand, simply by taking up the subject, is our Judge and not to be judged by us -- by putting "God in the Dock " in C.S. Lewis's words. The most we can hope for is to give some account of Him that will make Him marginally less inscrutable to our fellow creatures. There is no such humility or sense of proportion in The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick himself assumes the role of God, his camera showing us what only God could see, including the formation of the earth's surface from primordial volcanic eruptions, the early aeons of evolution and the destruction of the dinosaurs by the silent impact -- perhaps since none but dinosaurs are around to hear -- of what we surmise is the asteroid supposed to have caused the Cretaceous extinction. Mr. Malick's CGI dinosaurs smell of popcorn and Junior Mints, however, and look annoyingly like Jar Jar Binks . No wonder God smote them with the asteroid.

There are also various star-scapes and space-scapes placed side-by-side with what appear to be microscopic views of life on earth ("The ant's a centaur in his dragon world/Pull down thy vanity," as Uncle Ezra Pound once put it in words that Mr. Malick should take to heart), but such insistence on disproportion between man as questioner and the cosmos does not bring God any closer to us and to our human understanding, as Milton seeks to do, but instead just drives us further apart from Him. The justification of God to man here is that God is too remote from man to be justified. Like Derek Parfit, Mr. Malick is reduced to asking questions of the cosmos only to show us that he's wise enough to know there are no answers. What's the use of that? It looks like disingenuous posturing to me.

...that when He set out to justify the ways of Man to Hisownself, God ended up justifying His own to us.

"Forgive them Father, they know mnot what they do."

"Oh Lord, oh Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Posted by at August 21, 2011 6:49 AM

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