erik lundegaard

Obama, the GOP and Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life”

Early in Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life,” the following existential dichotomy is set up in voiceover narration from the mother (Jessica Chastain):

The nuns taught us there were two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.

The she explains what she means by each one:

Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Gets others to please it, too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

The movie focuses on a young boy in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, Jack (Hunter McCracken), who aspires to the way of grace, like his mother, but who succumbs to the way of nature, like his father (Brad Pitt).

It struck me, as I was writing my review last weekend, around the time of the Ames, Iowa straw poll, that our current political struggles, and the upcoming 2012 election, can be seen through this same prism.

Obama is the way of grace. He's been more insulted than any sitting president, and his response has been to work with those who keep insulting him. People on his side often fault him for that. I'm often one of them.

The GOP, which claims to have God on its side, and which claims a kind of Godlessness for Obama, is the way of nature. It wants to please itself. It's about more for me and less for you (or us). It's about lording it over people. You see this attitude, which can be bullying or swaggering, in Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and the pundits on FOX-News. There's a killer instinct there. Sometimes this instinct exhibits itself in actual calls for violence.

It is, at the least, a stark contrast. The question remains whether this country sees any value in the way of grace, or if we, like young Jack in the film, and like most of us in our lives, will succumb to the way of nature.

Image from Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011)

Image from Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011)

Images from Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” (2011)


Posted at 08:09 AM on Thu. Aug 18, 2011 in category Politics, Movies  
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