How does your position in the present affect your memory of the past? This question must weigh heavily on the mind of any person writing their autobiography. Doubtless, our values in the present predicate how we assess our childhood, our adolescence, and afterwards. But the subjectivity inherent to the autobiography is not a problem for the genre. Rather, the autobiography’s subjective quality is precisely what makes the genre worth reading. It means something unique to hear a person tell their own story. Three such stories are The Confessions of St. Augustine, Thomas Merton’s memoir Seven Story Mountain, and Terrence Malick’s semi-autobiographical film Tree of Life.
Because these works are about spiritual conversions, the authors’ perceptions of their pasts are affected even more by the authors’ identities in their present. The individual described at the start of each book or depicted on film is a radically different person from the author or filmmaker who is writing.