Jack O’Brien’s Secular and Sacred Journeys in The Tree of Life

Here’s another essay from last semester that I’d like to share with you. The assignment prompt from my Sacred Journeys class: analyze a film that answers the question, is there such thing as a secular sacred journey?


Two Journeys Through Life

The Tree of Life (2011) was writer-director Terrence Malick’s fifth film in his forty-year career. The film follows Jack as he grows up with his two brothers and parents in Texas during the 1950s. A former Harvard philosophy student, Malick’s first titles achieved a cult following for their breathtaking cinematography, enigmatic voice-over, and philosophic musings. Though filmgoers knew to expect a unique viewing experience from Malick’s latest, no one was quite prepared for the polarized response. More words were spilled analyzing The Tree of Life than on any other release last year. 95875[r5].pdfSome viewers despised the film so much that the theaters put up signs effectively warning, “Caution: art film. No refunds.” Those who hated the movie had trouble deciphering its nonlinear, impressionistic narrative. Other audience members declared the movie a masterpiece; Roger Ebert placed it on his list of the ten greatest films of all time. For these viewers, the film is a wellspring for dissection and appreciation. Despite its unconventional story, a recent revisit reveals just how structured Jack’s movement through adolescence really is. On the surface, The Tree of Life is about Jack coming to terms with the discovery of suffering and the loss of his innocence. This is his secular journey. On a deeper level, his journey is framed by the statement that one must choose to live according to the way of nature, or by the way of grace. This spiritual dogma drives Jack’s internal sacred journey. Accordingly, The Tree of Life illustrates a template for the secular sacred journey.
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Essay on Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” and the Monster Movie Genre

I was extremely happy with how a recent paper of mine turned out. I wrote about Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 The Host, film genre conventions, and how The Host could be modified so that it is no longer recognizable as a Monster Movie. The essay can be viewed below – solely for the purposes of academic discussion.

The [awesome] prompt:

Genre films — like westerns, melodramas, horror films, etc. – draw on implicit conventions specific to genres in order to leave viewers emotionally and/or artistically satisfied while watching the film and when it ends. There are implicit conventions about what sorts of closure is appropriate to a genre, about motivations of the characters, about the kinds of emotions it is appropriate for viewers to feel, etc. Think of a standard western or a standard thriller. There are also visual conventions : think of the noir images or of the realist visual conventions of The Bicycle Thief or Chop Shop.

Although these conventions are important to identifying a film as belonging to a particular genre, they can also be violated for artistic and emotional effect. A good example of the violation of a thriller convention is Psycho. But it seems like they can’t be violated too much or they will no longer belong to the genre and/or be unsatisfying!

Using The Host (monster movie)…as an example, construct a thesis with two parts.

1. What are the important identifying elements of the genre of the film you’ve chosen? Emotions? Visual elements? Auditory elements? Character motivations? The ending? A combination of these elements or something else? Why is this/are these the most important identifying element(s) of the genre?

2. If you had the power to change the film, is there an element that you could change just a little bit that would result in it no longer being identifiable as a film in that genre? Justify this with reference to part 1) of your answer. Does this provide an argument for why the elements you identified in 1) are essential to the genre to which the film belongs?

Think philosophically and creatively!

568KB, .pdf

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