“No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end,” Jack’s mother says. “Unless you love, your life will flash by.”
What does the first part of this dialogue mean? She isn’t saying: “No one who loves grace ever comes to a band end.” She’s saying: “No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.”
So she believes a person who lives the way of grace daily will have a good end. Grace is the vehicle, not the thing to be loved. This is easy enough to understand, but defining the way of grace in objective terms is where one runs into trouble.
The Tree of Life depicts the way of grace by showing a brother forgiving a brother, a wife forgiving a husband, a dinosaur stepping away from its dying prey, creation coming into formation, and so much more.
I would define the way of grace by putting the needs and wants (yes, even the wants) of family and friends before oneself. Also–and this is tightly connected to what I just wrote–living a life without bitterness and despair concerning missed or failed opportunities in life. This is what the movie teaches. The mother loves her family and cares for them all. She holds them and embraces them. She whispers in calming tones. She shields her sons from the sight of a man having a seizure. She cares for the prisoner in the back of a police car.
The father loves also, but he more often attempts to control all that’s around him by creating patents, playing cards, weeding the lawn, teaching his boys how to fight, and punishing the children when he senses impertinence. There is one scene where he becomes aggressive with one of the boys (the one who will die an untimely death) during dinner and chases the rest of the family from the table. He then sits back down and continues eating his meal vigorously with bitter anger.
But what of coming to a bad end? The mother says following the way of grace will result in a good end, but this does not occur in the young brother’s case. He dies early in life, after living the same way his mother did.
This can be interpreted in many ways. Some may say the good came after his death, in heaven. Others may believe the way of grace served him well in life, and he never faced the bitterness and anger of his father or older brother (which is a peaceful gift).
Perhaps the good end is a bit of both. Certainly people can experience hell in this world by their own devising. The same can also be said of heaven, to a certain extent. Peace and harmony come with loving those around you and from accepting one’s place in creation. Malick says this through dialogue and breathtaking visuals. If you haven’t watched the above video yet, please do. This is creation coming into formation, and the sights and sounds are truly beautiful. Seeing this scene out of context doesn’t do it proper justice, but it will sway you toward wanting to view the film in its entirety–or avoiding it completely.
It’s the big things, such as creation, that can overpower humanity with love–but it’s also the little things that are just as potent. That’s the amazing thing about The Tree of Life, it communicates the ways of nature and grace throughout the spectrum of what a human can and (in some cases) can’t experience. Either way, each shot is saturated with love and splendor.