Not so long ago, I posted this on Twitter: "I have an idea: Compare The Tree of Life to Enter the Void." Steven Shaviro, one of America's leading culture theorists and critics, responded with this post: "Makes sense, because both Tree of Life and Enter the Void are essentially remakes of 2001." This is a great place to begin my negative review of a film I have not seen and will probably never see.
I'm a big fan of Gaspar Noé's first two films, I Stand Alone and Irreversible (they owe a debt to the great Alfred Hitchcock). Enter the Void, however, failed because it owed nothing to Hitchcock and everything to Stanley Kubrick, the most overrated director of the 20th century. I would not even call Kubrick's cinema misanthropic; it's worse than that. It hates not human life, but life itself. This is the hate of a priest, but at least the priest offers his followers another world after life. With Kubrick, we get nothing but the hate. The second most overrated director of the 20th century (and the most overrated director of this century) is Terrence Malick, and the fact that his new film owes a debt to Kubrick spells big trouble for us all.
I made another post on Twitter: "The Tree of Life will be to Enter the Void what American Beauty is to Election." What did I mean by this? American Beauty and Election are about the same thing: the sexual behaviors of white suburbanites. Both films are not great—but one, American Beauty, is much worse than the other, Election. Why? Because American Beauty has no laughter. It's totally serious. The sexuality of white suburbanites turns out to be a surface that can be easily peeled to reveal the truth: The sexy Lolita is actually a virgin, the homophobic military father turns out to be gay, the horny married man turns out to be a decent chap with principles. And all of this is done with all seriousness. Election is less oppressive because it has a sense of humor.
And this is the problem with Malick's cinema. It is so damn serious and heavy and deliberate and slow. But this heaviness is empty because that is all it is: heavy. We get nothing out of these films but the dead weight of lost hours. Malick has no social information and, worst of all, no humor. The ending of Enter the Void is great because it is hilarious. The film concludes with a huge penis (huge if you are watching it in a theater) thrusting into a vulva and ejaculating at us. Wow. How can you beat that: the cosmic by way of the comic? (One day I will tweet this: It's instructive to compare the end of Enter the Void with the end of Dr. Strangelove.)
I heard from someone who may or may not be reliable that Malick's film has a boy narrator. This boy talks to God, asking deep questions like: Why am I here? How did I get here? Where are you? Now, it's very possible The Tree of Life has no such thing, no boy talking to God. But even if this is the case, it still sounds like something you'd expect to find in a Malick film. It's Malickian for a boy (innocence) to talk to God (experience). How heavy and dull. How Heideggerian. How Eckhartian. How Lutheran. Indeed, wasn't it Luther who went on and on about keeping life silent so that he could hear (be open to) the word of God? Pure mystical nonsense.
Then there is the title of the film. That title says everything we need to know: The Tree of Life.