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“The Tree of Life” Day 5: Children of the Evolution

"The Tree of Life" Day 5: Children of the Evolution

And with this we wrap up our Tree of Life week. But it’s really just the beginning. Malick’s masterpiece (safe to call it that, whatever niggling reservations one may have) opens today in select theaters, and will expand in the coming weeks. Go.

A recap of this week:
1. Chris Wisniewski on the film’s brand of spirituality, from Job to St. Thomas Aquinas to Heidegger.

2. Genevieve Yue on nature, trees, Brakhage, and D. W. Griffith.

3. Michael Koresky on the evocation of childhood and loss of innocence.

4. Keith Uhlich on the film’s prehistoric sequences—dinosaur love.

And finally, Jeff Reichert takes on Darwin and all forms of evolution, from organic to cinematic.

“There is grandeur in this view of life . . . from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” —Charles Darwin

When Auguste and Louis Lumière first shined a light through a thin celluloid strip imprinted with sequential images, casting the shaky, colorless, but nevertheless strikingly realistic representation of an arriving locomotive onto a screen set before an audience, they could never have imagined their simple beginning—a hand-cranked gadget that elegantly paired cutting-edge photochemical processes with basic mechanical know-how—would beget something as wondrous as Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Yet, it did. The world-changing evolution from that Point A, one shot of only fifty seconds in length (though apparently L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat was not programmed as part of their inaugural demonstrations—the tale of cinema, as always, exists at the meeting place of science and myth), to Malick’s Point B, weighing in at around 8,280 seconds with hundreds of discrete of shots, has been considerable. We take it for granted somewhat that, especially since the advent of sound, how cinema works has been consistent, immutable. However, the countless New Waves, dead ends, discarded technologies, and breakthroughs we’ve seen since 1895 attest to a pliable medium always in flux, even if the meaningful changes may not be apparent at the moment they occur.

Though separated by over a century of cinema, L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat and The Tree of Life share a fundamental sense of wonder: at the image, at the world, at the fact that we are able to capture pieces of its beauty in images. Read Jeff Reichert’s article on The Tree of Life.

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