When director/writer Terrence Malick’s new film opens we hear the quiet voice of 1950’s wife and mother Mrs. Obrien (Jessica Chastain): “The nuns always taught us that there is the way of nature and the way of grace; it is up to us to choose.”
Actually, it’s not that simple, as we discern during the roll out of Malick’s cinematic epic overflowing with color, sights, sounds, and realize we are witnessing the artist’s rendition of God’s creative act. We move through the ages and see aggression played out between dinosaurs. Then we are with the O’Brien’s in a small Texas town where their three sons are born, baptized and confirmed in their parish church.
Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is an inventor, disappointed that his creations do not succeed. He takes out his frustrations on his wife and children, especially Jack (Hunter McCracken as a child; Sean Penn later). Mrs. O’Brien is kind and protective of her children.
The threads the film weaves together often comes in pairs: nature and grace; nature and nurture; stern, intimidating father and sweet, strong mother; the astonishing beauty of God’s creation entwined with cement and steel, creations of humans.
Click here for more of my review of THE TREE OF LIFE
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Dean O’Dwyer (Christopher Thornton) is an aspiring DJ known as “Delicious D” on the Los Angeles underground music scene. A motorcycle accident leaves him in a wheel chair and he ends up sleeping in his car on Skid Row.
Fr. Joe (Mark Ruffalo) ministers to the homeless by organizing and serving meals and finding temporary housing shelter for those who will accept it. The priest notes how depressed the young man is and brings him to a healing service where people are “slain in the spirit.” Dean is skeptical but inexplicably he discovers he has the power to heal others. It is very confusing and a lot to take in.
Thornton and Ruffalo in "Sympathy for Delicious" that opens today in NY, LA and DC on May 5.
Meanwhile Dean, now a minor celebrity, joins a rock band and decides to market his abilities as a healer. This is not out of compassion. It seems an almost passive-aggressive reaction to God’s caring for others but not for him. Fr. Joe advises against this, but must confront his own personal faith issues as he tries to guide others. When Dean’s healing abilities fail when they are needed most, he is forced to confront his demons and accept the fact that sometimes the healing you get from God is what you need, not what you want.
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