Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


But what does God think?
July 31, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

How Christian is Terrence Malick's Tree Of Life?

How Jewish is Tree Of Life?

How Buddhist is Tree Of Life?

How Hindu is Tree Of Life?

Previously, and previouslyer.
posted by philip-random (88 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?
posted by tommasz at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


How atheist is the Tree of Life?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


That shore of life, or shore of eternity, is Great Salt Lake in Utah, with views of Antelope Island. The film seemed more open ended and mystical to me, rather than any one "flavor." The characters suffered and enjoyed human existence, while the mysterious lurked outside their realm. Perhaps informing the sub conscious, while at the same time being the source of everything.
posted by Oyéah at 9:48 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?

How do you know what something is until you've analyzed it?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:56 AM on July 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


What concerns do christianity, judaism, buddhism, hinduism, and atheism share?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:56 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


revenue intake?
posted by clavdivs at 9:58 AM on July 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


tommasz: “Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?”

Why can't anyone enjoy food for what it is, without trying to eat it?
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


> How atheist is the Tree of Life?

Wow, somebody really hates atheists.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 10:09 AM on July 31, 2011 [6 favorites]



What concerns do christianity, judaism, buddhism, hinduism, and atheism share?

Um ... feeling superior to "the unenlightened" (including one another) maybe? :)
posted by NetizenKen at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2011


Why can't anyone enjoy food for what it is, without trying to eat it?

If food isn't eaten, is it still food? :)
posted by NetizenKen at 10:12 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


God’s answer to his questioners, or what it would be if they could see the movie, seems to be: don’t bother me, can’t you see I’m still recovering from creating the world? And who are you anyway? Equipped with this generous response we may become – I became – less irritated by the large-scale drivel and more sympathetic to the tiny central characters of the film’s story, stuck with such a God and effectively abandoned by their creator and their director alike.
Michael Wood for the LRB: "The mystery about The Tree of Life is how a work that is truly terrible in so many respects can remain so weirdly interesting."
posted by RogerB at 10:16 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, somebody really hates atheists.

Yeah; as an atheist, I found it pretty baffling. I didn't mean to endorse it by posting it. Personally, I like how the "No True Scotsman" fallacy was built right into the argument.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:20 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?

Why can't anyone enjoy enjoyment just for what it is, without trying to enjoy it?

I do take your point though, tommasz, but for me analysis is a prolongation of the afterglow.
posted by jamjam at 10:24 AM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


“Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?”

Romanticism was the worst thing to happen to culture in the 18th century and its braying haunts us still.
posted by atrazine at 10:26 AM on July 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


How Pastafarian is the Tree of Life?
posted by hellojed at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The mystery about The Tree of Life is how a work that is truly terrible in so many respects can remain so weirdly interesting."

It's an audacious, ambitious, BIG work of (so-called) art. As such, it takes big, big chances, foremost among them, choosing not to worry about many of the generally accepted essentials of narrative film making so that it can focus more fully on other stuff. Whether it works or not then has a lot to with the degree to which the audience is willing to take the leap with the filmmaker. Simply put, how far out are you willing to go?

To suggest this kind of conscious creative choice is "terrible-making" is to completely miss the point about much of what makes some of the greatest works of art so great. Which is not to suggest we can say that yet of Tree Of Life. It's too soon. But I do suspect we will be talking about it in all manner of weird ways for a long time to come.

Lord God Whoever You Are, be praised.

and Hollywood money, too
posted by philip-random at 10:31 AM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?

THINKING IS HARD!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 10:35 AM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why can't anyone enjoy something just for what it is, without trying to analyze it?

I bet you can't wait for Captain America II.
posted by Decani at 10:40 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I bet you can't wait for Captain America II.

...just try not to overthink the whole nationalism-via-juiced-up-ultimate-frisbee aspect of the thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:50 AM on July 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


I grant that sometimes, it's easy to get so carried away in analysis that you lose sight of whatever story exists beyond analyzing. This is one reason that close reading of texts, for example, strikes me as an obnoxious conceit. But Tree Of Life without analysis is a series of loosely connected vignettes which become increasingly less connected and then all of a sudden you have evolution and volcanoes. Part of the joy of seeing something like Tree of Life comes from sitting down and thinking about it afterwards, and piecing it all together into something which is meaningful to you.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:56 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


How Pastafarian is the Tree of Life?

SOMEWHAT!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2011


Wow. That atheist article is a crock.
posted by brundlefly at 11:31 AM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


it takes big, big chances, foremost among them, choosing not to worry about many of the generally accepted essentials of narrative film making...

Sounds like an extremely lazy way to make a film. "I'm just going to let it take me where it wants to". No, you're going to force the audience to go where you want to. (No, I'm not saying the audience is always right. Just necessary.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2011


I like how the absolute simplest thing to do, to determine why people walked out, would be to ask them. You don't even have to interrupt your movie viewing, just go by the theater a different day, or ask someone at the theater if they'd do you a big favor and ask someone who was leaving why they were doing so.

It's a lot easier to project the belief that they're atheists, I guess.
posted by mikeh at 11:42 AM on July 31, 2011


Tree of Life opens with:
There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.
I found some knowledge of the debate about divine grace in Christianity helpful to interpreting that monologue, and thus the movie. YMMV.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:46 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


How terrible was The Tree of Life?
posted by Aizkolari at 11:51 AM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace.

Gee, maybe all those "new atheists" who walked out were just people with a slightly-more-complicated-than-binary worldview.
posted by vorfeed at 12:01 PM on July 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, do you give a shit?
posted by Postroad at 12:02 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, do you give a shit?

As an atheist, falling trees make me extremely uncomfortable!
posted by maxwelton at 12:29 PM on July 31, 2011


vorfeed: "Gee, maybe all those "new atheists" who walked out were just people with a slightly-more-complicated-than-binary worldview."

Gee, maybe the majority of folks that didn't walk out were just people who could tell the difference between the thoughts of a guy who writes a movie and the thoughts of a character he wrote that movie.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:39 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, do you give a shit?

Hmm. Does it fall on any deaf kids?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:53 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like an extremely lazy way to make a film. "I'm just going to let it take me where it wants to". No, you're going to force the audience to go where you want to.

There's nothing lazy about The Tree of Life. It's not conventional filmmaking, but the choices Malick is making are deliberate and controlled. He has a very clear "point" to make, and he makes it very clearly. You just have to be willing to suspend your expectations of a normal movie and pay attention to what's in front of you. The 1950s sections in particular are perfectly lucid storytelling, and the Book of Job quote at the beginning is a dead giveaway.

Now, your typical formulaic Hollywood film -- that's lazy. The same stories, same characters, same structure, same techniques, over and over again. It's nice to see a big movie that tries to do something different.

How atheist is the Tree of Life?

I'm an atheist. I thought The Tree of Life was the most religious movie I've ever seen. It didn't interfere with my enjoyment in the least. It seems a lot more reasonable to assume that the people who walked out were expecting a normal movie starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and left when it became clear they were getting something else.
posted by twirlip at 12:56 PM on July 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


My two cents: I definitely thought to myself about 3/4's into the movie.. "Oh no, is this a fuckin' Jesus flick?"

And I say that as a long time Malick fan who feels Days of Heaven and Thin Red Line are among the greatest American films.. Tree of Life just left me wanting.. more? Maybe less..
posted by ReeMonster at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2011


Hey guys it's me again, I heard you wanted to talk about my movie!

I heard that there's been some concern over "religious" elements! You may think you've got it all figured out, but did you know that in Texas people say "Jesus" when they're angry too? It's like how they say "Coke" when they mean Diet Pepsi! What a crazy place.

Let me tell you a story. When Heidegger wanted to go to college his family was too poor so he went to a Jesuit Seminary. But then he had to leave because of a heart condition. Later he left Catholicism completely. But this is the same guy who said "In the disclosure and explication of Being, entities are in every case our preliminary and our accompanying theme [das Vor-und Mitthematische]; but our real theme is Being." I mean, talk about Diet Pepsi! lol

When I was writing my movie (THE TREE OF LIFE!!) I wanted to give it emotions. Good movies have good emotions! Did you guys see "Airplane?" There was a great scene on a beach in "Airplane" and every time I think about it I get tears in my eyes. He's saying goodbye for good! So that's where that came from. But on the other hand, Brad Pitt told me one time, "Terry, I hope people know this is just a metaphor for death being yet another stage of life, and the scene stands for Sean's character accepting his brother's death because life in all its stages is beautiful and part of the ongoing chaos and wonder of the universe."

Well let me tell you. I did a double take! Then I said "Am I in Fight Club?" (Brad Pitt was in Fight Club!) Which reminds me of something Jared Leto said to me once.

So I hope that answered your question!! If you want anymore details just let me wait listen that perfect hush after the crashing of a wave
posted by "Doctor" Terence Malick at 1:06 PM on July 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


So...the Tree of Life is the monolith?
posted by thescientificmethhead at 1:09 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


How Jewish is Tree Of Life?

It never writes, it never calls....
posted by zarq at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it.

It sounds to me like what Malick is contrasting here is the apathy of the dead and the engagement of the living. And of course he elevates the former with preferential terms and denigrates the latter with insults, because all religions are forms of death worship.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:16 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh Terry. You so silly!
posted by cazoo at 1:18 PM on July 31, 2011


Gee, maybe the majority of folks that didn't walk out were just people who could tell the difference between the thoughts of a guy who writes a movie and the thoughts of a character he wrote that movie.

For me, the question is whether the movie is going to be a waste of time. Because frankly it seems like little more than intellectual masturbation, a worldview limited by the overriding premise of the film: Two Ways Through Life. I haven't seen the movie yet, but my decision to wait until it comes out on video and not wast $20 at the theater was based on the way the film was marketed -- how it was presented to me, the potential audience. Nuance doesn't seem particularly important to the plot.

From the religion dispatches link:
Two Paths

Most critics have noted the film’s early-on pronouncement of an either/or choice down life’s path: “There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” The father (the masculine force, disciplinarian, the god of justice) is pit in distinction to the mother (the feminine force, compassionate, the god of mercy). Marketers have exploited this dualism, and a promotional website for the film carries the title: twowaysthroughlife.com. Comments on the film (by critics and in the comment sections of major media outlets) typically ape this dualistic proclamation.

posted by zarq at 1:22 PM on July 31, 2011


because all religions are forms of death worship.

I'm curious as to how you think Judaism fits this description. Could you explain?
posted by zarq at 1:23 PM on July 31, 2011


Or for that matter, Sikhism.
posted by zarq at 1:24 PM on July 31, 2011


Dude Zarq you have to see it in the theater. No way it will be as effective on a small screen. You need to be immersed.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:25 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


WTF is up with this review :

"This is during this fugue that people walk out. They do so because in following the first scene with this one, Malick has set the context of his artwork so baldly, so explicitly, and so unambiguously in the deepest of metaphysical questions, it is impossible to maintain the superficial atheist posture in the face of them. "

Is this some kind of intimation that if you sit thus this movie you'll magically become a theist/xtian?

This commentary sounds like the forebear of a hate crime. "Oh look your not really atheist you are just hipsters angry with god or something. This guy is trying to pull the Bill O'Rielly stratagem "I get to pick who is the real *, who cares what they people themselves say."
posted by MrLint at 1:32 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gee, maybe the majority of folks that didn't walk out were just people who could tell the difference between the thoughts of a guy who writes a movie and the thoughts of a character he wrote that movie.

"The thoughts of a guy who writes a movie" are not all that important, IMHO. Any writer worth his or her salt can write just about anything given a prompt or idea, even if it's in pure opposition to their own truest "thoughts", so it's foolish to read a story or screenplay as if it were necessarily a window into the author's own beliefs or feelings.

That monologue, on the other hand, is in the movie. Dualism is right at the heart of this film, and whether Malick "thinks" that way or not, that's a theme which is likely to turn off a lot of people. So it goes; my point was simply that one doesn't have to be a "new atheist" to reject a film with such an up-front, black-and-white premise.
posted by vorfeed at 1:33 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this some kind of intimation that if you sit thus this movie you'll magically become a theist/xtian?

No, the emphasis is on superficial rather than atheist. He states at the outset that he's not complaining about serious philosophical atheists, just anti-religionists. You don't have to be religious to find the film rich and involving. My wife and I both thought it was fantastic; she grew up Buddhist, I grew up Catholic, neither of us are religious.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:39 PM on July 31, 2011


Is this some kind of intimation that if you sit thus this movie you'll magically become a theist/xtian?

My guess, having been through this before with aggressive Christians assuming that my religious pales in the face of their One True God, is that he feels atheists are just people who don't know any better and haven't found Jesus yet. An obnoxious sentiment that deserves to be met with a hearty "Fuck Off."

This guy is trying to pull the Bill O'Rielly stratagem "I get to pick who is the real *, who cares what they people themselves say."

There is a subset of Christians who feel their religious faith has magically transformed them into arbiters of moral relevance in our society. And that they are commanded to preach to the rest of us. As anigbrowl says, this generally means they will view non-Christians as superficial, because they assume people who haven't found Jesus simply won't or can't comprehend a sophisticated "values" argument. You know, the ones where one doesn't have to think about the underlying nature of society because people have already been drawn into simplistic categories. Homosexuals bad. Non-Christians bad. Jesus good. Etc.
posted by zarq at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Tree of Life blew me away. I've seen it twice now, but I still need time to work things out. Every scene is working on multiple layers of meaning. Suggesting that the film is 'lazy' is perhaps the funniest opinion I've heard yet.

I have no doubt in my mind that it's an extremely openly spiritual film, the likes of which audiences will not be prepared for. But it's not just a Christian film, it's not just a "praise the Lord" film. If anyone is averse to cheerleading films like that, it's me, so I would've been first to walk out. But Malick is working at a point that is much more subtle and interesting. It's worlds, universes away from something like Passion of the Christ.

To my mind, the opening monologue that sets up the nature/grace dialectic informs everything in the movie, the relationships, characters, symbols, emotions. And it's not about religion vs. non-religion; on the contrary, it's about the different approaches to creating meaning and making sense of the world, the different paths and ways of structuring our lives to face the scary emptiness and deep tragedy and ambivalence that we all eventually have to come to grips with. In this sense I think the best question to ask may be "how existential is Tree of Life?"
posted by naju at 1:46 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The thoughts of a guy who writes a movie" are not all that important, IMHO. Any writer worth his or her salt can write just about anything given a prompt or idea, even if it's in pure opposition to their own truest "thoughts", so it's foolish to read a story or screenplay as if it were necessarily a window into the author's own beliefs or feelings.

That monologue, on the other hand, is in the movie. Dualism is right at the heart of this film, and whether Malick "thinks" that way or not, that's a theme which is likely to turn off a lot of people. So it goes; my point was simply that one doesn't have to be a "new atheist" to reject a film with such an up-front, black-and-white premise.


The difference is that the filmmaker's own thoughts will generally be presented as Correct, i.e. The Message Of The Film, whereas a character's thoughts may be presented as anything from Correct, through Ambiguous, to Get a load of this asshole! Usually it's that middle one.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:46 PM on July 31, 2011


I'm curious as to how you think Judaism fits this description.

What all religions have in common is an elevation of the eternal over the temporal, the perfection of the transcendent over the mess and muck of life. "Truth" is outside of time and the world, nothing here is of value in and of itself except as it relates to something numinous beyond and outside of life.

Richard Rorty talks about religion as Platonic escape from life

Further thoughts on religion's relationship to comfort and happiness in this world
posted by fleetmouse at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2011


What all religions have in common is an elevation of the eternal over the temporal, the perfection of the transcendent over the mess and muck of life. "Truth" is outside of time and the world, nothing here is of value in and of itself except as it relates to something numinous beyond and outside of life.

While there's certainly a strain of this in Christian thought, I'd point out that the primary Christian belief is that "Truth" is explicitly not outside the world, and in fact, that Truth chose to exist in the mess and muck of life.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:01 PM on July 31, 2011


Having said that, I loved Malick's The New World and am looking forward to seeing Tree of Life.

I'm a strong atheist. I have a positive belief that there is no God. But I have no prejudice against works of art from theistic points of view... I see them as an expression of humanity, something that tells us (sometimes inadvertently) about ourselves as much as any secular work of art. I don't reject Macbeth because it has witches or the Iliad because it has gods and river spirits.

I suspect, in fact, that the people walking out of screenings of Tree of Life are religious fundies, not atheists. Most of the atheists I know are educated liberal types capable of entertaining ideas they don't happen to hold. Religious fundies, on the other hand, are offended by anything they don't understand (which is most of the world). Maybe they mistakenly attended Tree of Life because they heard it was religious and expected something conventional like Kirk Cameron's Fireproof.
posted by fleetmouse at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


As anigbrowl says, this generally means they will view non-Christians as superficial

That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2011


While there's certainly a strain of this in Christian thought, I'd point out that the primary Christian belief is that "Truth" is explicitly not outside the world, and in fact, that Truth chose to exist in the mess and muck of life.

Tee hee! It's time for a Nietzsche quote!
[...] the higher must not be allowed to grow out of the lower, must not be allowed to have grown at all.... Moral: everything of the first rank must be causa sui. [the cause of itself.] Origin in something else counts as an objection, as casting a doubt on value. All supreme values are of the first rank, all the supreme concepts - that which is, the unconditioned, the good, the true, the perfect - all that cannot have become, must therefore be causa sui.
It's not enough for Christ to have been a man in this world who said and did some things that we value. Truth had to come from without, deigned to "lower itself" into the mess and muck of life. Nothing great can come from or be in this miserable worthless world except as it relates to the divine. We cannot be risen apes but must be fallen angels.

I think that's a profoundly sick worldview. I think it's life-hating and death worship.
posted by fleetmouse at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


> He states at the outset that he's not complaining about serious philosophical atheists, just anti-religionists

Yes, he uses the movie as a prop to tell us how he wishes the strawmen were as agreeable to his beliefs as the true Scotsmen.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 2:12 PM on July 31, 2011


Sorry anigbrowl. Didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I misinterpreted you then.
posted by zarq at 2:12 PM on July 31, 2011


It's not about Christ, it's about Adam and it's about Job.

In the first quarter (mild spoilers) the mother asks God why he's done what he's done, and then demands that he answer. The next thing that happens in the movie is the "creation of the universe" sequence.

The movie is very much structured with the Job story as a frame, and the Cain & Abel narrative as a skeleton. The father is compared constantly to an Old Testament God. The whole movie serves to kind of subtly discredit the whole anti-natural-world opening speech. It's an incredibly complex movie about the nature of life, hung on the coatrack of some very, very old stories about the nature of life, but it doesn't seem to entirely coincide with any of them.
posted by penduluum at 2:14 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd just want to say that the only reason I wanted to walk out of the theatre, was that I thought it was a terrible movie. I like movies with spiritual overtones, and I've loved the director's earlier work, but this one just didn't work for me.
posted by troubles at 2:16 PM on July 31, 2011


What all religions have in common is an elevation of the eternal over the temporal, the perfection of the transcendent over the mess and muck of life. "Truth" is outside of time and the world, nothing here is of value in and of itself except as it relates to something numinous beyond and outside of life.

I haven't read the links yet. I will, but I think it's worth saying that this description is really not my understanding of Judaism. There is very little focus in Judaism on either death or the afterlife, and what is mentioned and how it is focused on varies rather widely between sects. However, we are taught repeatedly that it is how one's life is lived in the here and now that matters. Not the afterlife. Not the eternal endgame, so to speak.

There is an aspect of Judaism that is based on "how G-d wants you to behave." But Judaism generally teaches that Jews have free will, there is no such thing as fate, (except I suppose in certain aspects of the mythos) and death, heaven and the afterlife are far, far less important than life.
posted by zarq at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


(By the way: The Hindu is a major-circulation Indian newspaper, and doesn't really have much to say about Hinduism, despite its name.)
posted by naju at 2:41 PM on July 31, 2011


I suspect, in fact, that the people walking out of screenings of Tree of Life are religious fundies, not atheists. Most of the atheists I know are educated liberal types capable of entertaining ideas they don't happen to hold.

I saw it in Paris. Three people walked out. They seemed like urbane parisians, not particularly fundies. I loved it, but I can understand pretty well how someone who goes in expecting a regular straightforward drama with Sean Penn and Brad Pitt would bow out after the creation of the universe sequence.

It's a pretty relentless film. It's constantly throwing abstract concepts at you, and the cutting is so fast and varied that It doesn't really let you absorb anything in the moment. I don't think people walked out of it because of any philosophical reasons; they probably walked out for the same reason they walked out of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, they went in expecting escapism and got something else altogether.
posted by Omon Ra at 2:49 PM on July 31, 2011


penduluum: "The whole movie serves to kind of subtly discredit the whole anti-natural-world opening speech."

Yeah, I'm surprised that so many people are taking those lines at face value.
posted by brundlefly at 3:29 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like to think of it as Malick's version of A Serious Man.
posted by anotherbrick at 3:31 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the links yet.

Please at least watch the Richard Rorty youtube. It's brief and to the point.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:48 PM on July 31, 2011


I haven't seen the movie yet, but my decision to wait until it comes out on video

Bad call, dude. I usually avoid "wasting $20" at the theater, too, but I knew this was one to see on the big screen.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 4:19 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


What concerns do christianity, judaism, buddhism, hinduism, and atheism share?

If you have to ask, you probably wouldn't understand the answer anyway.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2011


Yeah that "atheists hate it" link is lame on all sorts of levels.

Not least of which is that it's poorly reasoned:
If "5% to 10% of audiences" are walking out, then:

- that's a hell of lot of "New Atheists"
- ALL of whom must be offended enough to walk out (5-10%?? Really?);
and
- NOBODY ELSE is deciding that "This is not the movie I wanted to see."

I would guess that - like American society as a whole - the vast majority of walk-outs probably consider themselves to be nominally Christian; but just not wanting what Malick is offering.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 4:24 PM on July 31, 2011


anigbrowl: No, the emphasis is on superficial rather than atheist. He states at the outset that he's not complaining about serious philosophical atheists, just anti-religionists.

I find few things more superficial than the argument by stereotype given in the linked article, and in your defense of it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:57 PM on July 31, 2011


All I did was to point out what the guy actually wrote rather than what people wanted to project onto it. I got the strong impression that most of the people having a go at him didn't even read the thing in full, or else didn't read it carefully. I don't think this constitutes an argument in its defense, although I did make one in defense of the film. In any case, there's plenty of stereotyping coming from all corners here.

I personally think people are focusing far too much on the subject matter and whether they 'should' like it or not. Even if I disagreed violently with Malick's worldview, it would still be a magnificent piece of art because it so fully realizes the vision of its creator; the visual construction, soundtrack, acting and editing are stellar in every respect. You can put me in the camp that considers this one of the greatest films ever made. A masterpiece.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:47 PM on July 31, 2011


The sum of evidence presented for the thesis that atheists of any sort walked out of Tree of Life is this:

I’ve taken an informal and largely anecdotal survey of blog posts, tweets an the like, and I believe I can offer a reasonable, educated guess about who walked out.

That's it. No quotes. No numbers. No citations. Not even a description of method.

So where is this coming from? My own blog searches using the keywords, Malick, "Tree of Life," atheist, and "walk out" have produced praise for the film from self-identified atheists. I can't find collaborating evidence on Twitter either. Most of the Twitter reactions appear to be frustration with the pace of the movie rather than any existential disagreement.

Without any evidence that atheists are walking out of the movie, all we're left with is a paint-by-numbers argument that it must be true because "new atheists" don't appreciate art with religious themes. That argument is even weaker because after you've excluded Harris's love of Buddhism, the praise for the KJV Bible by both Hitchins and Dawkins, and the effusive praise for Tree of Life advocated people who happen to be atheist, you're talking about a small pie indeed.

Of course in any large population you can probably find things to support your confirmation bias. That doesn't make the bias a fair generalization.

anigbrowl: You can put me in the camp that considers this one of the greatest films ever made. A masterpiece.

All the more reason to object to hijacking a great work of art for the service of what is, once you look under the hood, little more than a prejudiced polemic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:20 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can hear two or three (I think?) atheists who loved Tree of Life discuss the movie on the excellent Quarter To Three movie podcast (hosted by Tom Chick).

(Each podcast begins with a very silly spoiler-laden "summary" of the movie by Kelly Wand--which I usually find hilarious--followed by a much more earnest discussion of the week's movie.)
posted by straight at 6:56 PM on July 31, 2011


I saw it. I liked the first hour, was bored in the second, and found the ending lame. It's visually and audibly beautiful, but the characters seem to get less interesting as the movie progresses. By the end I didn't care about them, they were just vessels for the heavy-handed theme.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:17 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


there are moments of pure elegiac insight into what it is to be alive and to not know and to be curious about life and everything the word entails. stunning sequences that resonate and vibrate at the deepest level of meaning, expressing truths that are difficult to communicate with words. Malick and his team - because auteur or not, film is a collaborative art - have created something unique, as people have noted - that takes big swings. it doesn't always hit, sometimes it misses - but hurray for him, and them, for taking the swings, and connecting as they do so poetically. bravo for exploring the boundaries of the medium. for eschewing 3D. for actually daring to think, to try, to reach beyond the every day. as a whole I think it's flawed - but as an attempt to do something new - hallelujah.
posted by TMezz at 8:44 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


fleetmouse: “Please at least watch the Richard Rorty youtube. It's brief and to the point.”

First of all: have you even watched that video at all? He's not talking about religion. He's talking about all philosophy before the 19th century. He is lumping into that people like Plato, who I think you'd be very, very hard-pressed to claim is some sort of religionist, although I guess there are some surfacey arguments for it.

Second of all, he's flatly wrong. All philosophy before the 19th century was not a search for god. You'd think Richard Rorty had never read the Greeks at all – yeesh, hearing him speak is even worse than reading him.
posted by koeselitz at 9:54 PM on July 31, 2011


koeselitz, when western religion philosophizes it almost always does so from the perspective of first principles, Platonic foundationalism of some flavour. Of course all philosophy was not a literal search for God but the parallels are unmistakable. It was a search for the eternal, the necessary, the perfect and unchanging. A world of forms distinct in its purity and certainty from the messy world of becoming. (you may argue that there were branches that were more pragmatic, and I won't disagree, but those eventually became science, and the "pure" branch of philosophy became post-Kantian epistemology - what Rorty calls professionalized philosophy)

Rorty is generalizing and compressing a hell of a lot into his statements in that video and also speaking casually but as to the claim that he's never read the Greeks - I had to re-learn the Greek alphabet so I could transliterate some of the terms and phrases in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and google them.

(wait, what movie were we discussing again? Ferris Bueller?)
posted by fleetmouse at 10:42 PM on July 31, 2011


Why can't anyone enjoy food for what it is, without trying to eat it?

Why can't anyone enjoy food for what it is, without rinsing it repeatedly until all the flavorings have been washed away, so that they can then take apart the component pieces, identify them, and then burn them so they can come up with a neat count of calories, fats, proteins, and other constituent parts?

I think there are some people who experience analysis as an experience, in and of itself, and others who experience it as taking away from the experience.

There are some works of art that I feel benefit from explication or analysis, others that don't. I tend to like a painting or book less after it has been analyzed to death, but I often appreciate a film after watching it with the commentary. So ironically enough I don't mind analyzing films.

But I do kind of mind a dismissive attitude that says that analysis can never be a disruptive process. I mean, you're basically saying that people who watch a film without analyzing it essentially aren't experiencing it, which is simply not the case.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:39 AM on August 1, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: "Wow, somebody really hates atheists.

Yeah; as an atheist, I found it pretty baffling. I didn't mean to endorse it by posting it. Personally, I like how the "No True Scotsman" fallacy was built right into the argument.
"

From the linked article:
New atheism is really more about a belief about believers than a conviction about the non-existence of God. “If you still believe in God you are either crazy or stupid.” It’s a binary proposition. And this proposition is such a bedrock principle of this new movement (not all atheism mind you) that to suggest any other possibility or perspective is a threat.
I've definitely gotten this vibe from some comments in the blue, although it's a decidedly minority perspective. I'm not entirely sure whether there actually is a new or old atheism. What's new is we finally live in a society where people feel safe to express negative attitudes towards religion. I think there are intolerant people holding every sort of tenet, including atheism. The difference between atheist intolerants and religious intolerants is that people who disagree aren't "evildoers going to hell", they're "crazy and stupid". There are other atheists who simply disagree without making it feel like an attack.

As someone who is Jewish, I have definitely been made uncomfortable in contexts that are "too Christian". I've never walked out on them, but definitely wanted to.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:51 AM on August 1, 2011


Deathalicious: “But I do kind of mind a dismissive attitude that says that analysis can never be a disruptive process. I mean, you're basically saying that people who watch a film without analyzing it essentially aren't experiencing it, which is simply not the case.”

First of all, that doesn't follow rationally at all. If analysis is never disruptive, that doesn't mean that other ways of experiencing have to be disruptive. One might believe that several ways of experiencing are legitimate, and still insist that analysis is never disruptive.

Second, that's not exactly what I was saying. What I was trying to point out is that this old saw, "just experience it, don't analyze it," is fallacious at its core. There is no "experiencing" without analyzing. This is simply how the human mind works. Even if you silently think to yourself, "gee, I sure like that color," you're analyzing. So telling people to enjoy things without analyzing them is like telling them to enjoy food without eating it.

The think I object to most of all is this notion which seems to be more and more popular that talking to each other about things is a destructive and evil act. "Oh, you're ruining it by thinking about it!" How can this be the case? If this is the case, isn't death the preferred state, since only death can be a cessation of thinking? I embrace thoughtfulness, I embrace dialogue, and if these things are going to be tarred as "analysis" and dismissed outright, I'm going to say something about it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tee hee!
ugh, gross
Tee hee! It's time for a Nietzsche quote!
so gross it's wrapped back around to being kind of sickly endearing, like an overly affectionate pug that wants to share its extra chomosomes
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:16 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's new is we finally live in a society where people feel safe to express negative attitudes towards religion. I think there are intolerant people holding every sort of tenet, including atheism. The difference between atheist intolerants and religious intolerants is that people who disagree aren't "evildoers going to hell", they're "crazy and stupid". There are other atheists who simply disagree without making it feel like an attack.

I think the quote tzikeh posted yesterday has a lot to do with this, too. I don't actually think religious people are crazy and stupid -- some of them, sure, but that's not exactly news for any given population -- but I do think that they are wrong about the world, and that religion is, on the whole, harmful.

Like the quote implies, though, suggesting the latter tends to be taken as if it were the former... and around the 300th time you're told you're "intolerant" and "ignorant" and "abhorrent" simply for being against religion, you start to realize that you might as well just call religion crazy and stupid and be done with it. The idea that anti-religious opinions are "an attack" comes baked-into the framing of the debate, and I think that (among other things) tends to push anti-theists toward the attack-y end of the spectrum.
posted by vorfeed at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll agree with vorfeed, although I blame the Internet myself.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:34 PM on August 1, 2011


I don't care. The film was extremely disappointing.
posted by fightoplankton at 1:17 AM on August 2, 2011


vorfeed: “I don't actually think religious people are crazy and stupid -- some of them, sure, but that's not exactly news for any given population... The idea that anti-religious opinions are "an attack" comes baked-into the framing of the debate...”

These two things taken together – the fact that you grant that only some (not all) religious people are crazy or stupid, and the fact that your experience is that accusations that you're attacking by disagreeing are an inherent part of the debate over religion – suggest to me that you're only talking to the crazy or stupid religious people. Shouldn't there be some religious people somewhere who won't view questions as an attack?

Though I guess it isn't your responsibility to find them.
posted by koeselitz at 6:37 AM on August 2, 2011


These two things taken together – the fact that you grant that only some (not all) religious people are crazy or stupid, and the fact that your experience is that accusations that you're attacking by disagreeing are an inherent part of the debate over religion – suggest to me that you're only talking to the crazy or stupid religious people.

I'm not saying it's the only response I've ever gotten. It is part of the mainstream framing of the debate, though, to the point where any open anti-theist will have encountered it over and over. And it's not just religious people who use it, either -- the so-called dichotomy between "serious philosophical atheists" and "anti-religionists" is a good example of the same argument from a non-religious perspective.
posted by vorfeed at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2011


koeselitz: Been thinking about this a lot. No, I don't think that very many religious people are crazy or stupid.

But a very common theme across the spectrum of religious rhetoric is that a lack of faith, internalized spirituality, or religion-grounded morality is a problem that needs to be fixed. And I think that sets up the conflict in which messages like, "good without God" and even "Merry Christmas" from self-identified atheists have the potential to explode.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


the so-called dichotomy between "serious philosophical atheists" and "anti-religionists" is a good example of the same argument from a non-religious perspective

Once again, I was merely directing people to the specific distinction drawn by the author of the article, and not advancing an argument of my own. However, I will do so here:

It is easy to point out the harm caused by organized religion, or by the substitution of superstitious or animistic notions for admission of ignorance, empirical observation and methodological theorizing. However, science is not all that much help in the analysis of ethical issues, whereas religion (insofar as it is a projection of human psychology) has proven itself an excellent approach to resolving such questions, within its limitation. A serious philosophical atheist is a person who has taken the time to wrestle with (if not necessarily to solve) questions about the formation and development of ethical norms in the absence of religious priors, and with whom a religious person can have a meaningful discussion about normative issues, notwithstanding the underlying disagreements about the source of moral behavior.

An anti-religionist, by contrast, strikes me as the sort of person who doesn't believe in god but doesn't have any coherent approach to resolving ethical quandaries. In my experience, such people are apt to trot out truisms about what they believe without appreciating the possibility of conflicting viewpoints. This is readily visible in discussions about contentious topics like Economics, where people go about hurling random bits of economic dogma at each other without any real desire or capability to solve the problem at hand. Merely asserting that religion is inherently crazy because you have met a lot of crazy religious people is a bit like asserting that atheists have no moral foundation because some famous atheists have instituted or directed tyrannical dictatorships; a classic confusion of correlation with causation.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:29 PM on August 4, 2011


A serious philosophical atheist is a person who has taken the time to wrestle with (if not necessarily to solve) questions about the formation and development of ethical norms in the absence of religious priors, and with whom a religious person can have a meaningful discussion about normative issues, notwithstanding the underlying disagreements about the source of moral behavior.

An anti-religionist, by contrast, strikes me as the sort of person who doesn't believe in god but doesn't have any coherent approach to resolving ethical quandaries. In my experience, such people are apt to trot out truisms about what they believe without appreciating the possibility of conflicting viewpoints.


I'll grant that some atheists have a much greater understanding of philosophy than others, just as there are religious people who do and don't have much philosophical grounding beyond truisms about what they believe... but what does that have to do with being "anti-religion", necessarily?

It seems obvious to me that there are atheists who have "taken the time to wrestle with (if not necessarily to solve) questions about the formation and development of ethical norms in the absence of religious priors", yet are nevertheless not fond of religion. It seems equally obvious that there are pro-religion atheists who trot out truisms about morality.

Conflating dislike of religion with philosophical ignorance seems like a cheap rhetorical move, if not a classic confusion of correlation with causation...
posted by vorfeed at 9:25 PM on August 4, 2011


Conflating dislike of religion with philosophical ignorance seems like a cheap rhetorical move

You're mistaking a noun for an adjective.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2011


You're mistaking a noun for an adjective.

Well, far be it from me to commit such a grammatical offense: conflating anti-religion with philosophical ignorance seems like a cheap rhetorical move.

Other than urbandictionary (ha), I don't see much support for your definition over the obvious one. And since when does making an adjective into a noun by sticking "-ist" on the end significantly change its meaning? Last I checked, that suffix means "one who follows a principle, or a system of belief" -- in this case, anti-religion -- not "one who does some entirely different thing, which happens to be whatever you say it is".
posted by vorfeed at 12:39 AM on August 5, 2011


« Older 3D interactive journey into the Great Pyramid of K...  |  "Every week for the forseeable... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments