The Tree of Life

When I was young, I realized that I could do what I thought was best and still hurt those around me in a way that I could not see. It crushed me. This happens when the branches of the family tree split: a child must shake off their parents’ influence and test their limits. We are given life, but must come into one of our own creation. Our lives are filled with these meaningful contradictions and mixed feelings: we may honor our fathers and hate their insensitivity; we may love our mothers, but resent how their misgivings follow us; we may abandon our siblings and miss them. We can throw years of thought at the unknowableness of another person’s motivations and still be unsatisfied with our crude conclusions. Life is robust and resilient, but it is also very confusing, because life is born lacking. Not everything we need is in us. Where does it come from? How do we find it?

The Tree of Life presents a wider perspective of life that includes all life over all time. The vast story is grounded through the experience of a mid-century Texan family. Their presence personifies questions that link familial human life to all other kinds of life. Where was I before I was here? What do I owe the lives around me? And to those who gave me life? What is the difference between my life and others?

The film provides no direct answers, but offers a hypothesis in its title: all life is linked, but tracing life back to its roots will only bring you deeper into the dark. Any answer to life will be unsatisfying, because it will require you to diminish the mystery. Best to leave life whole—some questions are more important than their answers. And so the film cuts away from the family to illuminate the other ways life unfolds, from dinosaur to frog, blade of grass to tree, sunlight to cosmos, all given the kind of beautification we typically only offer ourselves. “Do you see this?” the film asks. “Do you feel the connection?” There are many ways to be alive, so who’s to say what is right?

“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.” And it’s through artful testaments like this film that we begin to see the foundation of life that was so eloquently explained by Chief Seattle: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

The Tree of Life gives no answers nor satisfying stories. Instead, it offers us something better: a place to belong. What you need is out there. It’s all around you.