There’s a chance, if you saw Terrence Malick’s sprawling, evocative, and visually sumptuous Tree of Life last spring, that you left the theater a little confused. Not to insult your intelligence or anything, it’s just that between the birth and death of the universe, depictions of the afterlife, and the exploration of the dynamics of a post-war, midwestern family, there was kind of a lot to unpack.
Specifically, you may remember a scene in which a dinosaur comes upon a fellow dino lying in a riverbed, starts to wail on it, and then, inexplicably, takes a more nurturing attitude toward the injured animal. If that left you scratching your head, Jim Emerson of the Chicago Sun-Times has your answer.
At a panel discussion in Colorado, Emerson managed to get a moment with one of the guys in charge of the dinosaur sequence, and asked him what that interaction was all about. Turns out that Malick, always one to stick to humble themes, was just trying to depict the birth of consciousness. Yup. From a 2007 draft of the screenplay:
Reptiles emerge from the amphibians, and dinosaurs in turn from the reptiles. Among the dinosaurs we discover the first signs of maternal love, as the creatures learn to care for each other. Is not love, too, a work of the creation? What should we have been without it? How had things been then? Silent as a shadow, consciousness has slipped into the world.
Now I bet that scene seems as simple as the Lite-Brite drawings your niece is always shoving in your face, right? The typically slow-working Malick is currently working on three films, so there’s bound to be plenty of visually stunning opportunities to work on your film analysis skills in the near future.