The Tree Of Life (2011) Review (PG-13)

Can you say that you “just watched a good movie, but THANK GOD IT’S OVER”? I guess you can, because I’m saying that now. Director Terrence Malick is (at least for me) one of the movie industry’s poster children for pretentiousness. The pretension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. I get that he’s aiming for something higher than most of the mindless entertainment that’s offered up by most mainstream studios, but his style can be so abstract, so… so artsy fartsy… that I for one can’t help but laugh at some of the images that are put forth that are supposed to be taken seriously.  There’s one particular scene in this that involves two dinosaurs… Yes. You heard me. Dinosaurs… That made me momentarily embarrassed to be watching, but I guess I understood what he was going for. Almost the entire film  feels like snippets of perfume ads strung together…

Running. Bare legs in the surf. Children climbing trees. Man and woman staring at one another. Embracing. Whispering voiceovers. Woman’s dress and hair blowing in the wind. Sandy toes. A quiet house… With Malick, every moment is a HUGE moment. If a man farts, its potentially a moment of cosmic relevance. If one of the characters puts their hand in the water coming out of the sink spigot, it’s framed like a religious conversion…

And unless you’re one of those art gallery types that stand in front of a painting with their fingers on their chin lingering long enough for others in the room to regard their ponderings, you’re probably going to find getting through this somewhat difficult. The tedium and the volume of tedium come at you like Chinese water torture. You mock those first few drops, but eventually it all takes its toll. The ‘story’, if you want to call it that, doesn’t have a linear narrative. It presents seemingly unrelated visual sequences and expects the viewer to decide what it all means or what Malick intended. I actually found a little bit of it confused in its storytelling. It was difficult to determine the relationship of Sean Penn’s character’s to the family existing in the 1950s (with Brad Pitt as the father). You’re to assume that he’s one of the children depicted in the era, but some of this says otherwise, suggesting that you’re witnessing some kind of shared dream. Or something. I’m not a bright guy. I won’t really get into the specifics of the ‘plot’. The story jumps back and forth in time. The events are out of sequence; deaths occur early and then you get a rewind of prior events and relationships leading up to them. And then there’s dinosaurs… Sigh.

At times, it almost seems like a deliberate knockoff of  2001: A Space Odyssey in its themes of man’s existence/place in the universe or at least riffing on it. The pace and the sound FX especially are reminiscent of Kubrick. It has one of those church choir/operatic soundtracks. and forms what is intended to be a deeeeep meditation on life and ponderance on death. Where we came from. Where we’re going. Who we are. But to me it just comes off as a disjointed collage of images. And there are added voiceovers to explain things that aren’t explained properly through the imagery. The film IS remarkable visually as Malick’s movies always are,  but many of the scenes are completely unnecessary. The film repeats itself with nothing gained other than to extend the running time. On top of the slow pace and redundancies, the film has a dreariness to it. The negative is needlessly dwelled upon. Even when there are happier times depicted, there is still a down beat to the proceedings as if there is a weight to be carried. Perhaps Malick was trying to convey a sense of listlessness with all of the meandering camerawork and storyline. He presents an outline for a archetypal view of the particular era that the film is set in, that is, seen with a slightly bleak disposition.

I didn’t really see anything new here. It did tell a story even if it was painfully abstract. It was shot well. It moves at its own pace. But, it was FAR too long. If you’re not a hardcore fan of arthouse films (and I mean: HARD. CORE.) this probably won’t be for you. Malick is an acquired taste anyway and it probably helps if you’re a little bit of a pretentious snob to fully embrace him. I don’t think I fit into that category, but I will admit that Malick shoots pretty pictures. I liked this one about as much as another one of his depressing films ‘Days of Heaven’. This was okay, but I’m not really drinkin’ the Kool-Aid. A very melancholy…

 3.5 of 5


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