Our long national nightmare is over? : the resolution of trauma and male melodrama in The Tree of Life

Baker, Brian (2017) Our long national nightmare is over? : the resolution of trauma and male melodrama in The Tree of Life. In: Scars and wounds : film and legacies of trauma. Palgrave Macmillan, London. ISBN 9783319410234

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This chapter will consider the representation of personal and national trauma in Terence Mallick’s Palme d’Or-winning film The Tree of Life (2011). It begins with the news of the death of a favourite son, a trauma so profound that none of the surviving family members seem able to recover. Though this seems to denote the death in combat of a young soldier, the radical interiorization of this event marks a steadfast refusal to connect the father’s overbearing patriarchal presence with a structure of feeling that allowed the drafting of their son to fight (though without explicit historical markers, it seems to be in Vietnam). While generically diverse (a long, cinematically sublime sequence presents a cosmological ‘creation’), the film’s core is a male melodrama (a form considered by Mulvey, Schatz, and Mercer and Springer among others) wherein the traumatic event is foreshadowed by the Oedipal struggle between an authoritarian father and an elder brother within a prototypical nuclear family. Trauma in The Tree of Life is at once irrecuperable and the means by which emotional (and thereby political) conflict may be resolved, particularly with recourse to notions of sacrifice, grace and salvation clearly drawn from the Christian tradition. This chapter will read The Tree of Life as a mediation of two American ‘national traumas’, the war in Vietnam and the post-9/11 War on Terror, through the generic means of the melodrama (in the AFI’s definition, ‘Fictional films that revolve around suffering protagonists victimized by situations or events related to social distinctions, family and/or sexuality, emphasizing emotion’). Through the suffering and redemption of masculine characters, The Tree of Life proposes a theological solution to contemporary political and social traumas.

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Baker, Brian, Our long national nightmare is over? in Scars and Wounds, 2017, Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan'. This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319410234#otherversion=9783319410241
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21 Sep 2016 13:14
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16 Jul 2024 03:55