Critics Ignore Strong Spiritual Themes in Terrence Malick's Latest Films

Director Terrence Malick inspires fierce debates in film critic circles, although the prevailing wisdom says he's a first-rate auteur even when his movies disappoint.

Most critics still swung and missed while covering the spiritual content in his last two films, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, according to writer Damon Linker.

Linker, a contributor to The New Republic, is no apologist for the faithful. He's the author behind The Theocons, and in his opening paragraphs he says Christianity deserves the bad press it so often receives. His latest piece spells out Malick's spiritual intentions all the same while chiding critics for either ignoring or giving them too little attention.

Both The Tree of Life (2011) and the just-released To the Wonder are deeply Christian in outlook and inspiration — and both demonstrate the religion's continued power to serve as a vital cultural and intellectual force.

Mainstream critics hardly seem to have noticed. The problem isn't that reviews of the films have been negative. (Many critics praised The Tree of Life, while To the Wonder has been widely panned.) The problem is that, regardless of whether they've admired or ridiculed the films, the vast majority of mainstream critics have failed to treat them as the profoundly religious — and specifically Christian — works of art that they are. Whether or not the silence is a product of the theological illiteracy and scriptural ignorance that typically prevails among overwhelmingly secular journalists, something essential about these remarkable films has been missed. 


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