Let There Be: Visual Mysticism in “The Tree of Life”


“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  And so, director Terrence Malick prophetically joins God in asking us this at the beginning of Malick’s 2011 film, The Tree of Life.  This question from the book of Job sets up a certain amount of distance, a rift between two very different beings—God and people.

It’s the first of a number of dichotomies that Malick gives us: the rift between eternity and time that pervades the film; nature and grace, which resound as a counterpoint; there is life and death; suffering, happiness; darkness and light.  While the film spins on the reel, it becomes obvious that these fissures originate from the initial chasm set up between God and people.  “How does one bridge the gap?” an astute film admirer might ask.  The answer lies shrouded in mysticism.

As Malick is Christian, it is no surprise that he…

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