28
Oct
11

the tree of life

Just finished watching The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, with a few brief and puzzling appearances by Sean Penn.

First of all, I feel I must stress that I have no problem with poetic moviemaking, powerful symbolism, or beautiful cinematography. What I do have a problem with is the fact that the director, Terrence Malick, seemed to have two irreconcilable goals in the making of this movie: trying to tell a compelling and powerful story about a complex character and the family at his mercy, and trying to incorporate every powerful moment or image Malick has experienced since childhood.

It’s kind of funny that I ended up watching this tonight, because I was thinking, literally just a couple of hours before, about whether it would be possible to tell the story of a life through a series of songs, or pictures; whether the changes in feeling and ambition and perspective that mark one’s passage through this life can be reflected adequately without a narrative.

This is what Malick seems to have tried to do, but I don’t think he did it very well. There are too many gaps in the narrative — principally, which son died? and at what point in the rest of the character’s lives? If you want to do it poetically, you need to do it all poetically.

Instead, when he gets to a point in the story where he doesn’t know how to tell it, he just cops out, and opts instead for montages of creation-of-the-earth-à-la-2001:A-Space-Odyssey, or crowds of people “coming to the water.” Then, when the images seem to have tried the last possible shred of patience from the viewer, he returns to the story at some point in the future (or, even more frustratingly, cuts to the closing credits). I guess we are all supposed to feel that the “story had been told” (did it not matter? was it supposedly obvious? is it too pedantic of us to want to have a vague idea what’s going on?) and are just so flippin’ happy to be done watching volcanos and dinosaur/bird/pterodactyl things poking each other with their beaks we won’t mind or notice.

Didn’t work for me.

Should have watched The Third Man.

The opening monologue, though, is lovely — apparently two writings called “The Way of Grace” and “The Way of Nature.” Anybody have/know the text?

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2 Responses to “the tree of life”


  1. October 29, 2011 at 12:25 am

    ” is it too pedantic of us to want to have a vague idea what’s going on?”

    No!

  2. October 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    When I first saw the previews for this movie, I thought: what a spectacular movie. The cinematography is undoubtedly beautiful. And when I read reviews of the movie, and it talked about the creation of earth and God, I thought: This is exactly what I’m looking for. I’m a pilgrim of finding truth in life, and was excited to see a movie that dealt with morality: There were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow, and The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. These lines spoke to me. After watching the film, I didn’t know what I was supposed to have absorbed from it. Honestly, none of the symbolism made any sense to me. The plot didn’t seem to connect with the underlying message, which I’m still not aware of. All in all, I feel cheated. And I either need to become smarter, or Terrence needs to make things a little more obvious.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jennifer


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