Some hate for The Tree of Life; Or, my apparent obsession with AUFS

I wrote an initial comment over at AUFS on my first impression of The Tree of Life.  And the more I think about it the more I can’t stand the film.  This is a reflective position and not a commentary on aspects of the film.  However, the movie lends itself to being processed in a larger cultural and political context and I think the context demands more of the movie than it offers.  I think the movie can be viewed in part if not entirely as Jack processing his childhood.  So Jack wakes up aloof from his beautiful wife (who I don’t think he says a word to).  Lights a candle for his dead younger brother.  Goes to work and sits atop a high tower.  Calls the other alpha male (his father) to apologize for something about the dead brother.  As I process the movie another conversation at AUFS comes to mind in which Brad states that the church has never been able to appropriate or face up to modernity.  That may be true but why is there any need when you have a movie like this which causes modernity’s implosion in the psyche of the man who builds modernity (powerful ‘modern’ architect).  This modern man traverses and encompasses all of evolution in order to find meaning for the death of his brother.  Oh, and who was that middle child again?

I don’t think it is helpful to minimize the white middle-class male experience but how can this expression not invite scorn in our context?  What if Jack was the First Nations man I encountered walking down the street a month ago.  I suspect he might have a few more things to ‘process’ from his childhood experience but he has no high tower in which to brood.  In this neighbourhood being young and native tends to invite things that do not allow for contemplation and so he is jumped and hit with an eight-ball over the head.  He continues on down the street with blood flowing down over him.  Oh wait, where was I again?  Oh yes I was up to the dinosaurs.  The AUFS view of this movie is all the more striking with its general tenor of liberation.  There seemed to be nothing here that would change the modern capitalist man or system.  He found his inner-peace.  Isn’t this the kind of thing that gets disemboweled over at AUFS?

It’s funny I was actually planning to right a post on my ‘conversion’ experience that I attribute in part to the posts and related scholars and thought that floats around at AUFS.  I am trying to shed vacuous and bankrupt theological language or at least press it for its implied meaning and implications.  This is a good time as I am entering into the ordination process with my conference and need to comment on our confession . . . well, we’ll see how good it turns out.

In any event I am not trying to take some jab at the general thinking and expression at AUFS.  I just find the engagement with this movie to be a little dissonant with the larger environment.  I should also point out that many of the comments were not actually made by AUFS regulars.  But as I mentioned in my comment over there I was really surprised it did not get a harsher review.   I suppose it provided some good intellectual and aesthetic fodder . . . and maybe that is all that it amounts to though the movie and the conversation seemed to be pointing to more.

There were two audible responses to the movie in my theatre.  First was a loud yawn.  This was only a partially accurate review in my mind.  I was sucked into the ‘evolution’ (but would have been just as happy to see it as an I-Max piece) as well as moved by many other visual landscapes.  Some of the social and psychological commentary was suggestive and provocative (as Brad elaborates in his original post).  The other audible review was probably more accurate.  It was a sarcastic wow-wee.  Of course this probably spouted by a white middle-class male.


5 comments on “Some hate for The Tree of Life; Or, my apparent obsession with AUFS

  1. Brad Johnson says:

    I may be an outlier amongst my AUFS kin, but I’m actually not up for inviting or heaping scorn singularly on the white middle-class male experience. It is, after all, my experience, and public self-evisceration gets a little boring after all. I think I make a note in the post about the homogeneity of the socio-ethnic homogeneity of the film and how it might be problematic. I’m not actually so gung-ho myself to run out and make it a big deal, but I do not have a fundamental opposition to somebody doing so. I do, however, think there are probably bigger potential “problems” with the film than its pastey penises.

  2. I honestly don’t think my review of the movie would be as harsh had it not been for reading the AUFS threads first. There is little to no to tolerance there for any sort of ‘pious’ expressions that do not fundamentally assert themselves within the material fabric. This is how I read ToL. So I cannot escape and do not want to evade my experience (not minimize it as I mention) I do want to level it or bring it into greater conversation with other experiences. The film seemed so rigorously isolationist on that level that I have to wonder if I am missing something.

    There definitely needs to be films about white middle class penises. I just don’t know if this was a helpful one.

  3. Brad Johnson says:

    What you say is fair, I suppose. I think the critical reaction to the film on AUFS has been pretty across the board. As far as I know, of the main bloggers, only Adam & I have seen it, and we liked it precisely because we homed in on what w took to be its material fabric. He & I have gone back and forth in instant messages, and I think it comes out a bit in my give & take w/ Bruce Rosenstock, about whether we are unduly rehabilitating the film or not. (I’m inclined to say “not” — but that’s because of my particular aesthetic philosophy, and not because I am so devoted either to Malick or his film.) I suspect a good many readers, and quite possibly Anthony and/or Dan, might well despise the movie.

  4. Yes, I recognize that the engagement was very limited in scope.

  5. Kampen says:

    I enjoy and support your apparent obsession with AUFS.

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