Rather than offer a standard form review of auteur / poet / man-of-mystery Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film, the Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life, I figured I’d offer some stray thoughts on the movie. This because Malick’s film pays no mind to any definable variation of standard form in the realm of filmmaking or storytelling as a whole. The film is big and wide open, poking the brain to think and remember, question and ponder in ways it often skirts around – the hard memories of youth. That, and little things like the meaning of the universe and our existence.
Thought No. 1: I can’t imagine how a theater full of females or non-Americans – or even African Americans – will respond to Tree; but, for me (a young white male raised by an overly protective mother and a no-bullshit, hard-as-nails father, circumstances similar to what we see on the screen), the movie was as poignant as any I’ve seen – ever. Malick somehow remembers the most profound seconds of his youth – a collection of single moments that made him the person he is today. He uses his recollection of those moments to create a story about a Waco, Texas family going through some serious growing pains. Dad is nature and mom is nurture, or, in Malick’s case, Mom is grace. The family’s three young boys (led by the eldest, Jack), struggle to find the balance between the two often opposing lessons their parents teach them. My words on your paper or computer screen can’t begin to express the poignancy Malick puts into his poetic movie – into this family. Many moments in the film prompted me to remember childhood moments that I hadn’t thought about since they happened 20 or more years ago. Those moments of discovery – and the painful process of trying to figure out day-to-day life as a member of an intellectual society – deepen Malick’s movie, which is basically an open-ended questioning of our existence. Poignancy defined.
Thought No. 2: Supposedly there are people walking our Earth who booed The Tree of Life when it premiered at Cannes a few weeks ago. To those people, I say this: Iron Man 3 will probably be out before you know it; for now, you have Thor, The Green Lantern, Wal-Mart, “American Idol,” Diet Coke and thousands of apps. It’s okay that you did not enjoy the film, but it’s not okay that you publicly booed a work of such clear courage. For that, I send you on a Diet Coke run to Wal-Mart.
Thought No. 3: Getting back on track, I believe this film will go down as a deserved all-time classic, as well as one of the more cerebral and visually poetic movies ever made. Not immediately, but eventually. I can’t think of a better picture about youth and the adult act of pondering the intangible as we look back and figure out how we came to be the people that we are. Malick brilliantly juxtaposes wide-eyed children discovering the small things in life against a perplexed adult looking back on simpler and better days – even if those “better days” were as complex as any he’s seen as an adult. It’s a moving and profound device that any movie-goer living a conscious existence should feel deeply, even if they came up under different circumstances than Malick’s O’Brien family. Great movies leave you talking and thinking – usually about one big thing that happened, one topic. Something having to do with the human experience. This movie left me thinking about so many different things, and deeply. I could go on and on about the many details, visuals and style points that I just can’t shake. There’s no rape, murder or child molestation. That stuff is too easy to put on the big screen. Malik puts other moments in his untouched edit – both the beautiful and the painful. But, chances are, you’ve not yet seen the film yet, and I don’t want to spoil the thrills.
Malick’s work here is a an existential puzzle piece of a movie that frames up the broad topics of creation, existence and self-worth (and many other things) in a challenging and poetically abstract manner that will be interpreted differently by anyone lucky enough to feast their eyes. It’s a not just a new classic, but the very rare piece of art that will be obsessed over and picked apart by thinkers for generations to come. A film made to play in both museums and theaters. If the intellectual depths of Terrence Malick’s imagination were ever in question, The Tree of Life assures that they will never be again. The best movie I’ve seen at the theater in years and probably one of the dozen best I’ve EVER seen. A new all-time masterpiece … a”religious experience” … an abstract, bold, challenging and insightful piece of timeless art.