I Saw The Tree of Life and I Liked It

I Saw The Tree of Life and I Liked It

On a frame-by-frame, shot-by-shot, scene-by-scene basis, Terrence Malick is pretty unfuckwithable. As though he came from a gene splice of Boo Radley and Stanley Kubrick, the reclusive filmmaker creates works that are austere, confident, and frequently stunning. Hitting the pause button at random during any of his films can reveal the sort of shot that other filmmakers slave through entire careers for. Patient and defiant, Malick makes movies on his own terms: You come to them either willing to accept what he has to offer, and at the pace he's willing to offer it, or you're in for the longest 16 hours of your life.

With The Tree of Life, Malick has created a film that embodies the best and worst of his tendencies. I'd tell you what it's about, but it's kind of about everything. Cosmic and daring and intimate and insightful, it straddles, dodders, and occasionally trips along the thin black line between glorious success and well-intentioned failure. It ranges from dourly introspective familial drama to life-and-death struggles between dinosaurs, spanning eons and species and the tiny distances between people. Sometimes it works, beautifully and boldly and with an Old Testament–style grandeur; sometimes it feels like a deleted scene from Jurassic Park.

Crappy computer-generated dinosaurs aside (in a movie as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as this, it's too bad Malick's prehistoric stars look like they're on loan from a 1997 PBS special), The Tree of Life mostly deals with the O'Briens, a Texas family in the 1950s: There's a father (Brad Pitt), a mother (Jessica Chastain), and their three boys, most notably Jack (played as a child by the awesomely named Hunter McCracken, and as a grown-up by an even scowlier-than-usual Sean Penn). Young Jack's thorny relationship with his overbearing father takes center stage, with Jack's poignant memories treated with as much gravity as Malick's fiery, rumbling depiction of the big bang. As the experiential, sensual Tree of Life swoops and floats and rambles, spinning in directions both metaphysical and pedestrian, the only constants are life (exuberant, joyful, hard) and death (terrifying, ominous, also hard). Predictably enough, there are also about 5,000 serene, graceful shots of a sunlit tree, which either stands proudly as a majestic symbol of the interconnectedness of the universe or is just a thing in the O'Briens' yard. Your call.

The Tree of Life is inarguably beautiful, and there are frequent moments of clear, moving profundity—just as, especially toward its ethereal climax, there are sequences of goofy clunkiness, when Malick gets too emo for anyone's good. As a whole, The Tree of Life isn't a masterpiece—but frame-by-frame, shot-by-shot, and scene-by-scene, it's an astonishing assemblage of parts. Maybe all of 'em don't fit together as seamlessly as they could, but hell. I'm guessing Malick's got bigger things on his mind. recommended

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Comments (4) RSS

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Cheers to you for actually watching the movie, unlike some other film reviewers from free weekly Seattle rags.
Posted by jno on June 18, 2011 at 1:53 PM · Report this

This was taken from the Portland Mercury
Posted by Martin Hickman on June 21, 2011 at 5:44 PM · Report this
CharlesF 3
This is a rare positive review that makes me absolutely sure that I do not want to see the movie: it seems extremely pretentious and made without a planned purpose.
Posted by CharlesF on June 22, 2011 at 1:49 AM · Report this
I watched "The Tree of Life" and it was the worst and most wicked movie I have ever seen. Even among arthouse mental masturbations this stands out as a most pretentious queen. I still think "The Thin Red Line" is an OK film. Not a masterpiece but agreeable. Yet TTOL throws away any concept of narrative. Some shreds of voice-overs blather on about love, life, and death. The nature scences were the more 'interesting' parts to watch. The human story was vacant of a story: a boy grows up in Texas under a harsh father he hates and a benign mother he loves. He stands awkwardly and looks disgruntled. Somewhere before we learn that his brother dies at 19. Good grief! The father enforces his shaky codes of behavior whilst prattling on about some pseudo wisdoms about life. During dinner he suddenly stands up to show the boys a copy of Toscanini's recording of Brahms 4th. WTF?! This is an ADD movie because it develops micro-threads that lead nowhere and throwing them together doesn't congeal into something meaningful apart from the usual wonders of "Why?". This is all rounded off with the mandatory resurrection exercise at the end where the cast and some others take a hike on a beach (LOST much are you?).
It's not even a proper experimental film. Where is the experiment? All we see is a slide show with some symphonic and choir music. Big deal! Yes, Terrence you can put together some beautiful pictures and your taste in classical music is nice. But stop the tracking shots that go upward to The Heavens and into tree tops. I got queasy because of them and almost had to vomit. The hall of mirrors whispering about "nature and grace" didn't help, either.

What a wreck of a movie.
Posted by Monik on June 22, 2011 at 5:47 PM · Report this

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