Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Tree of Life

In Terrence Malick's Tree of Life: A gorgeous image of 'the end of time' provided by a veteran genius of optical special effects, Douglas Trumbull.

**** out of ****

When someone asked me what I thought of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, I told him I loved it but I wouldn't argue with someone if they called it pretentious. Malick's great ambition with this film is to blend the cosmos and eternity with personal childhood/family memories in a small town in Texas. A young director right out of film school could try the same thing and I'd probably hate it. If you boil The Tree of Life down to it's concept as a movie, it's vague and very serious. I think that is the reason this film has so many haters.

Even self-professed Malick fans told me they hated this one. I wonder if they ever notice that the strength of his films is how very elusive they are. I don't need to know what they're really about. This movie is as beautiful as standing in front of a masterpiece painting in a museum or going to the symphony. For anyone who does such things, there is a code of patience and tolerance. For some reason, in the context of cinema, that code doesn't exist for most moviegoers. High art has a lot of trouble in the multiplex. 

Check out this funny story about walkouts on this movie.

What is really strange is that movies like The Tree of Life have been made before. Fellini, Bergman, and Kubrick are three celebrated names who all produced mysterious slow-moving works of art on film. Like Malick, their films were widely distributed. I just think they were from another time when there was a bigger audience for high-concept film making.

For me, this film is just gorgeous. It is filled with shots of visual wonder, accompanied by vibrant classical selections and original score by Alexandre Desplat, edited with thoughtful fluidity, and liberated from any kind of predictable narrative structure. The acting is invisible as everyone seems native to their environment. This is the kind of movie that puts me under a spell coming from a passionate director who has a talent for finding a 'god point of view' to life and treasures seemingly mundane moments in everyday existence and sees glory.

Here is a review from Ebert Presents: At the Movies

Plus David Edelstein's radio review.

Getting back to the point I was making at the beginning, maybe this movie is pretentious. I DON'T CARE. This movie is proof to me that a lot of great movies probably are pretentious in concept but so strong in spectacle that I'm not concerned with what they're preaching.

You may see this film and agree with my belief that movies can simply exist for their aesthetic and musical beauty. You may even wonder, as I often do, if movies that are concentrated on such things are the very best of cinema. 

All I can offer to someone who intends to see The Tree of Life is my advise to not think hard about it. See it alone if you have to. Sit back with no distractions and just experience it. If you are confused by anything, don't try to figure it out while you are watching it. Just watch, listen, feel.

But then again, you may not have any response to what this movie offers. Hell, maybe beauty offends you -and if so, there's always youtube.

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