I enjoyed reading your first impression! Allow me to offer a few thoughts, several of which may be useful for your second viewing (an excellent idea, by the way-- to watch it in sequence more than once).
I will not do an exegesis of all of the images, shot by shot, but this movie would be worth such effort.
Indeed it is! It is a story of images and music. There is not a single frame without meaning.
But I will leave that to the critics. It was a meaningful film. But it was not Catholic.
Are you sure? It depends on what one means by a "Catholic" film or work of art/fiction. Is Antigone
Catholic? Well, not in any direct sense-- it was written by a pagan and the whole story is about
Pagans, and at that, about pagans trying to worship pagan gods. But on analysis
I would say that Antigone
is deeply Catholic in its message and themes: the whole thing is about the notion of a higher law which no man can repeal, and heroism in the story is indicated by obeying the divine law over the laws of men, of respecting tradition, of honoring family, and of doing all of this in a truly ραƚɾισtic way. The story of Antigone
anticipates the story of St. Thomas More in a real and powerful way. When you actually sit back and think about what a play like Antigone
is saying, the fact that it was written by a pagan and "stars" pagans fades into obscurity.
Ditto The Tree of Life,
but even moreso. For one, it is not obvious to me that the family is episcopalian; the way religion is handled in the film is ambiguous, which is appropriate given the memory-styled way the story is told. For instance, the father genuflects and makes the sign of the cross when leaving his pew-- not an Anglican custom, so far as I am aware. They also light vigil candles; again, not an Anglican custom so far as I am aware. There are other aspects-- like the confirmation shot in montage, which do not reflect Catholic practices-- so either the director was not attentive in painting a consistent picture of their religious praxis or, consistent with how childhood memory works (especially for someone like Jack, who clearly has set any religious considerations on the back burner for most of his life), Jack's memories of religion are vague.
But more to the point, suppose they are
Anglicans, I think that fact detracts little to nothing from the film because what the film has to say is more metaphysical than it is directly religious. You can think of ToL
as one long prayer, a la De Profundis
(think of the mother's voiceover: "where were you? What are we to you?" as the camera ascends out of a cavern and then we see a gurgling wasteland; think of the film's opening quote from the book of Job, think of Jack's voiceover on the playground: "I want to know what you are, I want to see what you see"), etc. Every character, to the degree that they speak, is speaking a primitive and metaphysical prayer to God from the depths. It's the sort of prayer that I think everyone has said and meant at least at some time in their lives. A primitive but deeply genuine prayer, and one that is perfectly consistent with (indeed, I would say included in) the Catholic faith. Just as Antigone's
central messaging and theme is, despite the fact that there's nothing "directly" Catholic about it. That's considering the film at a high level, without getting into the details too much.
I loved the sun flowers. They were for me. For a modern movie I thought it was wonderful.
Me too. The very first shot is of the field of sunflowers, as is one of the very last shots. Why is this? Sun flowers are heliotropic (they follow the sun). What is the sun? In this film, it symbolizes God. Keep this in mind when you watch it a second time. Look at how the Sun is used-- always watching, but sometimes it is gone due to cloud cover-- like when the mother mournfully walks through the forest, indicating the ostensible absence of God. Think about that playground shot where Jack has a voice over, and how all of his requests ("I want to see what you see, etc.") have the camera searching for the Sun, which it eventually settles on as the shot ends. This happens frequently throughout the film, the camera is always "looking" for the sun, and even indoors the camera is always "looking" for the light. So, the sun flowers are the souls of the just. They are entrenched in the way of grace, always and only looking at the Sun.
The beginning talks about how some live by grace and some live by nature and that none of those who live by grace come to a bad end.
All things considered, I think that the movie is "about" the reconciliation of grace and nature. Although the mother says this at the beginning, the movie considered as a whole does not view nature and grace as contradictory but in tension, eventually to be reconciled. Jack is an architect-- grace builds on nature. The very last shot of the film is a bridge, uniting, as it were, grace (depicted throughout the film as natural beauty) and nature (depicted throughout the film as human industry). The final scenes on the beach are, for my money, Jack reaching a place of understanding and seeing that these two are reconciled. It is a great mystery to us, how they are, so those scenes are difficult to analyze, but when he "returns" he obviously has a deep peace and understanding, and he will never see the world the same again. Think about it-- the Agnus Dei
plays during this. "Behold the Lamb of God"-- whatever the beach scene is, it is a revelation.
Nature is necessary. The film tells us this through the character of the father; although the father seems like a tyrant, it is not until the father leaves that Jack really starts to have problems. We cannot escape nature, we have to learn to "live with it" and work with grace so that our nature is perfected.
Finally, we must speak of the young woman who appears throughout the film. This is the Virgin Mary, for my money. She guides characters in the way of grace. The boy who dies, R.L., is a favorite of hers. She comforts him in short shots early on. She leads the young children out of the cave and into the light, she opens gates for them. There are cosmic clouds, during the cosmological sequence, in the shape of the Madonna and Child. At the very end, during the beach sequences, she helps the mother raise her hands to heaven as she (the mother) says "I give him to you, I give you my son." The Virgin's intercession allows us to make this kind of selfless sacrifice, as she alone has suffered so deeply to lose not just a
son, but the perfect son.
I have many other thoughts too, but these are some of the most important ones. You'll have to let us know what you think after watching it again.