This was a love/hate movie.We were wrong in thinking the eldest boy died. Sean Penn was the eldest son, reflecting back on his childhood: the brother that died was the one that he kept asking to put his finger on dangerous objects to test his love and trust.
The Dad was the way of Nature: cold, cruel and subject to unpredictable bouts of terrorizing: the mother was the way of Grace, angelic, loving, and accepting.
The boy’s passage to adulthood was all about trying to reconcile those two forces in his own being. That part of the movie was brilliant. We could have done without the hokey cosmic-drug-trip space age whispering gallery at the beginning and the endless wandering on the beach at the end.
The sun flowers and we are the light, it all was too contrived….But still, let’s hand it to Terrance Mallick, it’s great when directors (and he did attend Magdalen College, Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, to study Martin Heidegger) push the boundaries of formulaic filmmaking.