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Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malick's Tree of Life

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  75 ratings  ·  18 reviews
About the Contributor(s): Peter J. Leithart is President of Trinity House, a study center in Birmingham, Alabama, and an adjunct Senior Fellow at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho.
Paperback, 100 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Cascade Books
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Mike Thorn
Leithart's analysis is often too rigidly schematic for my liking, but it does helpfully identify some of the film's external reference points (mostly theological, but also philosophical and literary).

Even as a lifelong Malick admirer, I get a little tired of all the airy critical whisperings about his "transcendental" style, especially when they're detached from any kind of grounded thematic/formal reading... thankfully, this book doesn't go there often, but it does tend to privilege descriptio
...more
Timothy Lawrence
Jan 20, 2020 rated it liked it
It feels a bit counterintuitive to approach a film as ineffable as The Tree of Life with this kind of organized, schematic analysis, but to his credit, Leithart admits up front that his book is, in a certain sense, superfluous. Though there are several good insights here (reading Jack O'Brien's initials as a reference to Job is so clever and, in retrospect, forehead-smackingly obvious), most of all, the book just made me want to watch the film again. I think Leithart would count that as a win. ...more
Adil Sylqa
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This great book does justice to a great film. It's my second read in a month and it's impressive the commitment Leithart put to illustrate almost every frame of the film. The way it is structured, the extensive research that has gone into it combined with author's knowledge on religion and philosophy makes even the biggest Malick skeptics to appreciate the glory in The Tree of Life. ...more
Jonathan Bicker
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
A useful summary for the movie with more than a few stunning insights due to Leithart’s clearly researching this movie a lot. He offers many interesting insights and takes on moments that had always struck me as decidedly abstract and offers some very plausible explanations.

Only problem for me, as someone who loves the movie and has watched it many times, is that I don’t necessarily *want* everything explained - the movie’s mystery is part of its draw - and there was, for me, a feeling of “Yeah,
...more
Tyson Cocks
For every observation or view that I thought was really interesting or insightful there would be two or three right behind that felt like a bridge to far. But that is the beauty of this film, you could read into it as much or as little as you like and still come away with a lot to think about.
Phillip Howell
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an enjoyable set of essays to help me think more about a movie that I initially did not enjoy that much, but after watching it again and reading this I have grown in my appreciation of it. It would be more interesting to read Malick's actual reasons for why he did what he did in this movie, but he is a bit reclusive and he does not really provide those answers. I wonder how much Leithart's Christian views are being read into Malick's story, but I suspect Malick is fine with us reading i ...more
John Coatney
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Nice series of theological meditations on an incredible movie. I found it really helpful in pointing out aspects of the film that I'd missed. It's brevity makes it a resource that I will likely return to multiple times. ...more
Tyrell
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful exegesis of a beautiful film
Thomas Christianson
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Solid considerations of a deeply philosophical film.
Brian
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
"Sometimes a hose is just a hose; sometimes a staircase is just a staircase." He said it. Nice.

Tree of Life is a thoughtful and slow film. People had warned me to not watch it looking for a relaxing evening. However instead of Jurassic Park violence evoking, da-dum, the PROBLEM OF EVIL to bear, the film turned out to be more even-handed than that, as expansive as reality and more human than I could have imagined. Those that mock the film as over-symbolic nerd-critic-fare have got a decent point,
...more
Garrett Cash
When I finally saw Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life last month it quickly became one of my all time favorite films. It was like an (actually better) Christian response to Kubrick's cold 2001. I did some research on whether there was any good writings on the film and found this little book by Peter J. Leithart which examines the film with a theological eye. Just what I was looking for! The book, while extremely short, did not disappoint at all, and is a highly satisfying examination of the them ...more
Mike Mullen
Aug 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
In my estimation, this book was a delight to read for many reasons. First it broke down a fascinating movie and let you see how the minute scenes, or clips fit into the whole. It would relate the various motifs that come at such a rapid pace to the one theme. It would describe how the musical selections were deliberately chosen to speak beyond the intellect to something deeper. But more than anything, it brought clarity to the many threads which one finds in most families which are here highligh ...more
Luke Stamps
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
An insightful evaluation of the greatest film of our time, a stirring theological reflection in its own right, and a suberb example of how to do Christian cultural analysis well. Can't wait to rewatch Malick's masterpiece with Leithart as a guide.  ...more
Bobbi Martens
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a tiny book that feels like a big book because it tackles a big movie about huge things (Tree of Life). Insightful, theological, faithful, interesting, and helpful in understanding a gorgeous movie.
Moses
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great primer on Malick's film. Leithart digs deep, and comes up with some solid insights. But don't read it unless you have just seen the film or plan to very soon, as his level of detail will be daunting if the film isn't fresh in your mind.
...more
Robert Terry
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A helpful book on one of, if not the, greatest movies. Almost gave the book 5 stars, but realized I was still in the afterglow of watching the film.

2019: Had to read this again after watching the new extended cut of the film.
Michael Cash
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christianity
A fantastic book exploring the philosophy and theology of Terrence Malick's incredible film, "The Tree of Life." I recommend this book and the film with the highest praise. ...more
Hannah
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Reads like a very good blog.
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Peter Leithart received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. He has served in two pastorates: He was pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyter ...more

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“the wonder of Being. Sometimes Being breaks in on us: A stunning sunset, an eagle in the sky or a snake upon a rock, a soul-stretching movement of a Beethoven Quartet, and at those moments the glory of Being breaks into our black-and-white lives in bright colors. In Heideggerian terms, the way of grace is the way of remembrance. Those who live by the way of grace live always with the remembrance of Being.” 0 likes
“Knowing that R. L.’s death at nineteen is not his end, Mrs. O’Brien and Jack can trust the nuns. Those who live in the way of grace may die young. They may die horribly. But they never come to a bad end because death is not the end. We are quite a ways beyond Heidegger here. Whatever other influence he had on Malick’s vision, Malick doesn’t accept that death is the limit, that time has a final horizon beyond which the rest is silence. Beyond death there is reconciliation, reunion, hope. Beyond death, there are sunflowers. The sunflower is a perfect image for the way of grace. Its name is suggestive of heavenly glory. In color and shape, it is a reflex of the burning suns of what might be an infinite universe. Malick uses Hubble Telescope pictures of deep space, but one doesn’t have to have a telescope to see the glory shine. Suns grow in the backyard, if we our eyes are open windows. Sunflowers follow the sun through the day, the perfect botanical expression of the way of grace that receives the glory. It’s the perfect Heideggerian flower that never forgets Being. But Malick does something stunning with his sunflowers. The first shot of is a close-up of a single flower, as Mrs. O’Brien speaks of the way of grace. We can see others dancing in the wind behind, but we concentrate on this one. At the end of the film, the camera pulls back, a brilliant blue sky fills the top two-thirds of the screen, and we see a breathtaking field of sunflowers. Through the suffering and loss that the movie depicts, the single sunflower of grace blossoms into a field of sunflowers. It’s Job, surrounded by his second family that he can love. It’s Brothers Karamazov. It’s the Agnus Dei and all seeds that go into the earth to die, so they can produce fruit.” 0 likes
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