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What’s at Stake in The Tree of Life?

If you’re into getting worked up about semi-artsy movies, the one you’re supposed to get worked up about lately is Terrence Malick’s new The Tree of Life. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. And got booed.

You’re especially supposed to get worked up, it seems, if you’re into religion. At Killing the Buddha, I’ve just published an essay about the experience of being faith-based-marketed to at a Tree of Life screening recently.

My associate could sense the difference immediately, instinctively, without knowing exactly why at first. An experimental-film critic from Los Angeles, she goes to screenings a lot, and she knew this was not the normal crowd. Afterward, she explained all the subtleties of their misbehavior. They didn’t applaud when you’re supposed to. There was talking and rustling around during the credits—a big no-no, apparently. These people were cliquey, but differently so.

What she could sense, I was able to fill in with a little more data: the room was full of religion people. I know because I am one, I guess. (She is not.) First, I recognized one of my editors at a Catholic magazine. There was also a man with a badge from the American Bible Society. When we sat down, I heard the group of dashing, coupled young professionals in front of us discussing things one doesn’t expect most young professionals to be talking about, like grace and the Seven Deadly Sins and plans to give a sermon.

Next, another dashing young professional raised his voice above the chatter. Tall, blond, and neatly-blazered, he welcomed us, said he hoped we would enjoy the film, and invited us to discuss afterward how we could collaborate and “mobilize” “our communities” around it. That was another difference between this and the usual screening. We weren’t there to criticize, but to mobilize.

Read the rest at KtB.