Tree of Life–Terrence Malick

I have chosen to write about the Goddess through the movie ‘Tree of Life’ by Terrence Malick, even though the movie is quite elusive.  Nevertheless, I believe this movie portrays the Goddess archetype very well through the mother in the story and the betrayal of the Goddess by a tyrannical male God type character, which the father portrays.  As I say this, I recall the oldest son in the movie being told by the father something to the effect of maybe he had been too authoritarian. The son responds saying how it was the father’s house, and he had the right to make the rules.  This so much reflects, in my mind, how God was to be seen in the Old Testament.  It is my house, and you follow my rules and the Goddess is seen as disloyal—after all she ate the apple– but was she really?  I will attempt to answer my query.

Malick’s starting point is a question from Job about where were we at the creation of the foundation of the universe, along with whispered words of the mother about how she was taught when she was young, by the nuns, “one has to choose between the way of nature and the way of Grace” as if they were opposed to each other, since “….nature is selfish…and wants its own way.”  You come to feel she did not quite buy this split ideology.

This shows clearly when you see, at the beginning, the death of her son and her doubts and annoyance with her husband.  You are brought into recognition of their journey through flashbacks, both about the creation of the cosmos and their own cosmos, as they grew up as a family together.  There was one poignant scene where suddenly you see a mask falling away against illusionary photographic imagery.  These subliminal clues built on themselves.  By the time you get to the scene where the father is with his young son in a luncheonette and flirts with the waitress (after a long business trip), you know clearly he is not faithful to his wife.  And, the quandary she experiences after her boy’s death is a reflection of the Old Testament rules, and the suppression of the wisdom of the feminine becoming unhinged.

Many scenes radiated an ethereal purity, especially around the mother.  It was like a divine light.  The birth of this family’s first child with the tenderest images of the father looking at and playing with his baby’s feet, many shots of the mother playing with her children in innocent reverie is an image of paradise. Even the father working in their garden, before things start to shift, seems to be a subtle reminder of God creating the Garden of Eden.

But, the words spoken by the mother, at the beginning, bring people right to the core of the mythology in many interpretations of Christianity where nature and Grace are seen in opposition.  Goddess wisdom is subordinated to following the rules rather than ones inner guidance out of an over exaggerated idea in which grace must accept all turbulence on the chin.

But, the way the initial question is posed shifts in aspect as one watches the film like someone who sees one frame and then the whole universe opens up backtracking to the rest of the frames joining things together.  Rebelling against a tyrannical and unpredictable God—at least the mother and her sons are when the father is not around—while the tyrannical God figure is trying to blame her for their breaking with his control over the domain, comes to a head where the wife overwhelmed with anger goes after the father to slap him for harming her sons.

In fact, the struggle between the mother and father which develops as they go down the path of life portrays the polar opposites of the Divine Feminine and Punitive God perfectly.  The mother Goddess is both natural and full of grace.  Her grace is not alienated and dogmatized.  It is one with nature. When you see her playing with her children outside in the summer sunlight or in their bedroom before sleep, you see the two fields coincide within her in harmony. The division is within the father as God–alienated from what is natural—who has to go out into life and fight for survival and becoming more animalistically aggressive in his use of power, when the world is not exactly as he wants it to be.  Her Christian battle is dealing with him and is mostly internal.

He tries to teach this to his sons to be aggressive.  One actually has to fight with himself not to use his father’s tactics against the father to destroy him, when he has the chance to.  When one of his sons actually speaks back to him, and a scene ensues, the tyrannical father outwardly blames the mother Goddess for disloyalty to him and the divide; but, in fact, it is his own disloyalty, cruelty and jealousy which alienate him. His unspoken bravado is how dare you not follow my rules.  I have given you this garden.

The father attempts to comfort her around the loss of their son, but she is rejecting him, as he rejects the other feminine Christian influences comforting her.  She feels resentment to him about how he treated her children, and finally he breaks down and admits he brought ‘shame’ to the boy, but she is not very empathetic.  It is the Goddess who has given birth to the form of the son and not the tyrannical God.  It is the Goddess who raises life above the consciousness of animals through her wisdom and not the father. She is the nurturer, comforter and harmonizer in the movie.  There is almost always a strong light around her.  She is not without wrath, but it takes much provoking.  Not until she feels her brood in danger does she fight back against the father to protect them.  She is betrayed, and loses one of her children, but still she continues to strive for understanding God and her conflict.  Her older son too is pushed to internally look carefully at his relationship with his parents growing up.

In the end of the movie, they all meet on the edge of the waters of life represented by the seashore.  There is no advertising in this ending to propagate any particular religion.  They are just returned together and are there for each other on a different shore (literally), and it is the mother who is seen there loving them all when the father comes to them and is released from his burden.  Subtly as the movie builds, it is the father who is seen as the personification and amplifier of evil until the end and not the Goddess wisdom.

In playing this over in my mind, I feel almost like the tyrannical father is Satan in the movie, and I know clearly this is not the standard take on this movie by reviewers.  It is Satan who is teaching us rigid obedience, when the true voice of God is feminine.  I think Malick is giving us a true opportunity to see our myths and reevaluate how we look at the Goddess or mother, what we culturally embody with obedience to a male dominating Godhead and the consequences.  So no, I do not see the Goddess (Eve or the wife in this case) as having betrayed God.  If one must bring duality into eternity, I see her as a creator who man is to defend, protect, honor and gain wisdom from into the mysteries of life in order to remain balanced in himself and the worlds he creates.

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I'm interested in hearing people's ideas about metaphors and to post other people's metaphors as well as my own!

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