(This will be my last post directly related to The Tree of Life. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, and as always, thanks for reading.)
“Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.”
The final scene of The Tree of Life comes after Terrence Malick has shown humanity’s self-dependance is an illusion. There is a greater strength than Brad Pitt’s character’s self-made man, which is found through stacking up all we are next to the totality of creation. We are small indeed when looking toward the tops of redwoods, or when we ponder the creation of the universe. Humility is the natural corollary of such conclusions, and the Creator loves humility. “Unless you love, your life will pass by,” Jack’s mother says. There is no love if God has not loved first, and his love is truth that reveals human life is full of meaning and dignity.
Much has been written about the end of The Tree of Life. Many believe it represents Jack’s (Sean Penn) death. I don’t agree.
Adult Jack walks through a desert, admitting he has been wandering the earth and struggling between the way of nature and the way of grace. Eventually he walks through the frame of a door and meets his younger self. (Why is this the case? Could it be: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”?) Suddenly they are on a reflective beach where he meets his family. They all stand on the shore, hugging and smiling. Reviewers have said this is their reconciliation in the afterlife, but I choose to believe it is Jack’s reconciliation with God. As the family members embrace, a voice says, “I give to you my son.”
This floored me and brought the movie exactly where it needed to end. Jack is a believer who has finally put his full trust in God’s love. He has accepted the way of grace, and therefore been able to fully embrace his mother, forgive his father, and–just as important–forgive himself for all his past and future transgressions.
In whatever spiritual state this scene takes place (Jack’s mind or heart or some spiritual realm unknown to humans), when the camera once again focuses on Jack in the “real” world, he is at his most tranquil since the viewer has been allowed into his life. A small smile suddenly shows on his face. Luckily, this is all we need to infer that he has found the peace that transcends all human understanding.