The Tree Of Life

Where I Watched it: HBo MAX

English Audio Description Provided by: Point 360

Written By: Connor DeWolfe

Narrated By: Roy Samuelson

I’ve seen quite a few documentaries this year, and I have no idea which ones are even eligible for Oscar’s consideration. but, if there is any justice in this, The Tree Of Life will make the cut.

It’s sad that this film exists. It exists only because a racist walked into a synagogue and decided to start shooting people based on his anti-Semitic beliefs. Had that never happened, this documentary would not exist. Really, any documentary based on a tragedy, I’d say we could immediately trade so we could undo the horror being explored. But, since it did happen, providing a vessel for the survivors of the shooting to tell their own story in their own words was an incredible experience I am grateful to have been allowed to participate in even as a passive viewer.

This documentary explores exactly what I just said. The shooting itself, from the perspective of those who were there. Those who survived, and their composure in being able to recap these harrowing moments for the audience is astounding. They describe watching their friends die with stoicism reserved only for trying to maintain a level emotion through an elegy. But here, these victims do not attempt to pull extra emotion from you, but rather just let the horrifying reality of what happened sink in.

The Tree Of Life also explores how the rescue happened, the aftermath, how the survivors recovered, and explores a glimpse into how a larger and ever increasing anti-Semitic tone in America led to this moment. Rarely is the shooter’s name used, except primarily at the end, when it reminds you that he’s still awaiting trial.

This has audio description, which is always appreciated, and it allows us to follow the various talking head moments, as we pass from victim to victim, and also cut to images from the news, and other pieces of footage. Talking head documentaries are pretty easy to follow without audio description because they are mostly people talking, but audio description provides a richness to the totality of the film, so it’s not just voices, but rather the combination of the stories being told, and the effective imagery that shape the final product of this film.

As a bookend to the film, Idina Menzel performs an original song, The Tree Of Life, which I don’t know if she wrote it for the film, or independently just for the lives lost at the Tree Of Life synagogue.

Really, everyone should watch this. It should be required viewing. Sadly, too many would consider this some agenda driven film, and would completely miss the message. There might be a lot of tragedy here, and fingers are very much pointed as to who to blame, but it also serves as a testimony to the strength and grace of the survivors, and as an epilogue to those lives lost.

Final Grade: A

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