Beginners and the Tree of Life

Over the past two weekends Sandy and I saw three films, The Tree of Life, Harry Potter and Beginners. I can’t say anything about Harry Potter because I spent the time resisting a very powerful Sleep Spell.


“people like us, half of them think that things will never work out; the other half believe in magic.”


That is ‘the memorable quote’ from Beginners. For me a perfect and very human and humane film about being real. Funny and touching it looks at Oliver’s relationships with his girlfriend in the present, with his recently deceased father in the near past and with his mother in his childhood .. and with the dog he has inherited from his father. I found it joyful and life affirming. I’ll get it when it comes out on DVD.



“there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which we follow.”


That is ‘the memorable quote’ from The Tree of Life, a beautifully made film which like Beginners dealt with the human experience. The film is centred around ‘Jack’ a man defined by a past that ‘wrestles within him’ and the roots of that wrestling in his childhood and the tension between the ‘Way of Grace’ (acceptance/love) embodied by his mother and the ‘Way of Nature’ (will/ego) embodied by his father. Beyond this the film points to deeper roots in the origins of the universe and life and centres on the loss of Jack’s brother at 19 though we only see him as a child. The film is beautifully made and poetic rather than prosaic in tone.


The two quotes epitomise the difference in the way the two films approach their subject. Tree is portentous and places human life in the context of the evolution of the universe. Beginners is wistful and playful and places human life in the context of human life. I like Oliver better than Jack, not just because his personality and history are much closer to my own but because even if he ‘thinks that things will never work out’ he chooses to be compassionate and dance with the magical even if he can’t yet believe in it.


The Way of Grace and the Way of Nature complement each other like Yin and Yang; Will and Acceptance, pessimism and believing in magic meet at the point of compassion and human kindness. Beginners gets this; I don’t think Tree does.