Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie with Abe: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Directed by Terrence Malick
Released May 27, 2011

There isn’t really another film out there like “The Tree of Life.” Then again, there isn’t a filmmaker out there like Malick, who marks only his fifth feature film in thirty-eight years and his first since 2005’s bleak Pocahontas reimagining “The New World.” His newest film definitely wants to be an epic, but there is not as much footing as he thinks there is, and the attempt to fill the rest results in an extraordinarily overstuffed, suffocating experience, amidst which sense and logic do not prevail. “The Tree of Life” is a hypnotic film that, more than anything, serves to intrigue rather than to fulfill.

The story in “The Tree of Life,” that of a young boy, Jack (Hunter McCracken), who grows up with a stern, distant father (Brad Pitt), isn’t nearly as grand as it’s made to seem. Thunderous overtures play every time a minor event occurs, aggrandizing regular conversations or small exchanges. The film is prone to extended periods of distraction, showcasing the sun going supernova and other such representations of the relationship between Jack and his father. There is even an unexplained sequence involving two dinosaurs that by no means belongs in the film, and appears comic and incomprehensible at best.

To be fair, a simple movie about a boy, his two brothers, his subservient mother, and his crass father wouldn’t have been nearly as enticing or fascinating to watch. There is barely a hint of a normal shot in the entire film, with each scene framed at an odd angle in order to give it added significance. The score by Alexandre Desplat, which was featured in part in the film’s trailer, is gorgeous and extraordinarily effective, if simultaneously deafening and inappropriately theatrical at times. Like the cinematography, there’s no subtlety to the music; it’s added at every opportune moment, so as to milk as much majesty out of this film as possible. The child performances from McCracken and Laramie Eppler, however, are quite strong. In terms of the adults, Jessica Chastain displays great anguish and joy with a simple facial expression, and Pitt displays an appropriate stoicism. Sean Penn’s casting is more suspect, since he doesn’t utter a single diegetic line.

“The Tree of Life” is a complicated movie that turns a fairly normal and unmoving story into a giant existential experience. Hearing that this film got booed and also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival makes perfect sense, since it’s a film that’s easy to be taken in by and just as easy to hate. There’s no rhyme or reason to the film ending when it does, after a prolonged two hours and eighteen minutes. Ending it an hour and a half earlier (before the appearance of those damned dinosaurs) wouldn’t have helped it to make any more or less sense. This film may be one of the most captivating cinematic experiences of all time, but it’s just as frustrating, puzzling, and ultimately, underwhelming.


1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

I have not seen this film yet, but I can't wait to. Like you, I didn't care for "The New World". However, Malick's first two features ("Badlands" and "Days of Heaven") would probably both find spots on my top 50 films of all-time if I were to make such a list. I would highly recommend either if you want to find out why everyone makes such a fuss about Terrence Malick.