Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fathers and Sons

Every so often, I come across some movies which stand out for all the right reasons, you know, good storyline, excellent photography, great acting and deeply resonant with the human experience of love, self-discovery, and spiritual discovery. "Tree of Life" and "The Way" are two such movies. Both have very strong casts and the acting in each is superb. Both are filmed with extraordinary skill, capturing the personal and the panoramic dimensions of the movies. Both are thoughtful meditations on the the human condition, combining aspects of family and the wider search for community. "Tree of Life" is the story of a boy's search for his father. "The Way" is the story of the father's search for his son.

While I don't want to offer a full scale review of either of these two movies, I found them particularly moving in their descriptions of family and family relationships. "Tree of Life" is an impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s and follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, (played as an adult by Sean Penn), from the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years. Brought on in no small part by the complicated relationship with his father (played by Brad Pitt), Jack is a soul "lost in the cosmos", seeking meaning and direction in a world bereft of moorings of any kind. This is the story of a son's search for his father. Terrence Mallick, the director, asks the big questions and does not offer any cheap or easy answers. But, like a poet, he leaves the viewer with inklings and hints. 

"The Way" is a film about pilgrimage, both external and internal. Tom (played by Martin Sheen), a well-to-do ophthalmologist working in California, is notified that his son, Daniel (played by Emilio Estevez), has just been killed accidentally while beginning his journey along the Camino de Santiago. Famous as a walk of pilgrimage for over a thousand years, the Camino is an 800km journey over the Pyrenees and along the border to the cathedral at Compostela where it is said that the bones of St. James are kept as relics. Arriving in France to claim the body, Tom impulsively decides to walk the Camino himself and complete it for Daniel. Of course, the journey becomes much more than that and Tom discovers much about himself and about his son, with whom he had a fractured relationship. Directed by Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen's real-life son, "The Way" is another exploration of the father-son relationship in which the father tries to walk in the son's shoes for a time and finds himself radically changed. 

I encourage any and all to see these two profound movies. Put them together with Marilynne Robinson's two books, "Gilead" and "Home" and you'll have much to think about concerning families, especially the relationship between father and son.