I’m back home after two weeks in Europe: one week spent at the Cannes Film Festival and then another week spent on holiday in several Italian towns. Cannes was a great experience, and while it was incredibly busy with meetings, I did catch a couple of stellar films. Among them, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Malick’s fifth film in 40 years has opened in L.A. and New York since the Cannes premiere, so you don’t need me to give you any attempt at critical analysis (for what it’s worth, I liked it quite a bit). There’s plenty of Tree analysis out there. But what I will add to the conversation is this: when I spent several days touring the artwork of Florence and Rome, my mind kept coming back to The Tree of Life.
The film is a spiritual journey for Malick, a quest to find the presence of God amongst a world of death. I’m not trying to compare Malick to Michelangelo (at least I don’t think I am), but there are parallels between the themes of the Renaissance masters and what you see in The Tree of Life. The Tree of Life isn’t the Sistine Chapel of filmmaking, but you could do worse than juxtapose the two. Conceptually, they are united by a theme of mankind’s place in the world and mankind’s relationship with an unknown God. If you want to really go off on a tangent, you could even argue that the relationship between Renaissance artists of the 15th century and the Catholic church is not unlike the relationship between filmmakers and the studio system. Malick’s attempt to find God through his art, is identical to what those Italian men experienced over 500 years ago: using other people’s money to create a beautiful depiction of our fragile existence between the physical and the spiritual.