Another indication of a flaw in his plan comes before the film begins when a message comes up advising you to watch the DVD with the volume turned up loud. It's true that you do need to turn it up to hear everything, but then the loud parts are really loud. I think you're meant to be overwhelmed by the experience of watching it, which means that seeing it at home is probably not the way to go, unless you have a really big TV. The use of sensory bombardment suggests a certain lack of subtlety.
What about the plot? The story, such as it is, is about coping. How do you cope with the death of a child? How do you cope with frustrations and failure in your career? How do you cope with parents who are impossible to live with? The answers suggested are: a) turn to God, b) you shouldn't be so focused on your career in the first place, and c) it's hard/turn to God/they wouldn't be so hard to deal with if they would turn to God. The God in question is not the low church God who shows up like Lassie to save the day with a miracle. It's a much more high church God, with very traditional music (Bach, Berlioz, etc.--see here for a full list), not Kumbaya, and pretty WASPy people. The question throughout is Where is God?, and the answer is roughly that God is in the endless, fascinating life of the universe. But the movie is more fascinated by the endlessness than by anything in the universe itself, it seems. It isn't about dinosaurs or jellyfish, after all, but moves from one image to another just to show how much potentially fascinating stuff is out there.
Mostly the film keeps its attention on a family of real people, but is detached enough that they aren't really knowable as people. The mother is elegant and loving, probably Christian, but that's about it. The father is somewhat Randian, showing entrepreneurial tendencies and encouraging his sons not to be too moral if they want to get ahead. He is also bitter about not having had a successful career as a musician. He loves his sons, but is also a bully. A cruel but loving father, perhaps a bit like the Father the film asks about. And then there are the sons, who don't say much, and are mostly passive and confused.
The best part of the movie comes at the beginning, right after the instructions to turn the volume up, with a quotation from Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?Then we're introduced to the film's vision of the world, which is something like an artful version of a child's point of view. The worst part of the film is the ending, where people wander around on a beach in something like a vision of heaven, but more like a painful parody of such a vision. (There are also almost framing scenes of sunflowers near the beginning and end of the film, very much reminiscent of Lebanon--is this some biblical reference I'm missing?)
The worst thing about the film is that it offers an answer to the problem of evil. Despite the boy's death at the beginning of the film, in the end everything is all right. Some change of perspective has supposedly been achieved. But it has been achieved by becoming detached, as if the answer to life's problems is not to live in the world but in abstraction. I prefer the answer given in Job, which is no answer at all. The best thing about the film is its asking of the question, both the fact that it presses it and the way that it presses it, the images it uses to do so (despite the occasional misstep).
For a good, and much more positive, review see here.