The Tree of Life (2011)
Terrence Malick, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar who has taught philosophy at MIT, has made five films in roughly forty years. The Tree of Life, his first film since 2005, won the Palme d'Or for best picture at the Cannes festival for its distinctly religious exploration of our human place in a cosmos that is equally beautiful and terrifying. The film is set in Waco, Texas (where Malick was born) in the 1950s, and centers around a single family. The O'Briens (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) are a young couple with three boys who experience what we confess every Sunday in the liturgy: the gift of life with all its joys and sorrows. Malick follows the oldest son Jack through youthful innocence, adolescent awakening, and then to adult reflection (played by Sean Penn) on his place in the world, especially given his ambivalent relationship with his father (Pitt). The film opens with a quotation from Job 38:4 and the observation that one can live "by nature or by grace." It ends with a prayer: "Help us. Guide us till the end of time." The response: "Follow me."