The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

Postby CAP » Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:05 am

This is basically Badlands Meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. And yes, as you might guess, there are a few structural problems, even Terry Malick’s distinctive montage cannot surmount. Badlands was his first and best feature from the early 70s about a doomed young couple fleeing 50s Texas across the great plains that stretch all the way up to Montana or so. It was ‘based on a true story’, as they say. I won’t bother with the details. Tree of Life takes a more autobiographical line on 50s working-class suburban life in Waco, Tx. framed by the subsequent death at nineteen, of the second of three sons, for whom parents and older brother naturally grieve and ask God – "WHAT IN TARNATION?"

But God is notoriously tightlipped in such situations and Terry can offer only an extended show-reel of God’s mysterious ways that starts with cosmic gaseous dispersal, followed by planetary formation and orbits, a quick swing through Jurassic Park and then loving details to sandstone erosion. So ‘nature’ at its grandest, really. Not for Malick to see ‘the world in a grain of sand, Heaven in a wild flower’ or ‘Clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee…’ It may have something to do with a more fundamentalist religion, but we get a much more literal and frankly, leaden vision. And, together with generous servings of popular classical music in accompaniment only drives home an essentially Time-Life aesthetic. For this reviewer, the effect was a little too much like kitsch.

I know this won best in show or something at Cannes this year and we’re all supposed to be just tickled pink by old Terry’s ‘discursive’ approach to editing, but I felt the cosmic asides went on way too long, the contemporary life of the eldest son, not nearly long enough. And the after life section at the end is just embarrassing. We get he is an unhappy (but very successful) architect haunted by the death of his younger brother way back in the 60s or early 70s (judging by the cars) but that’s not really enough to frame the central section – about childhood with the standard 50s authoritarian father, sibling rivalry and awakening sexuality. That part is undeniably good! The photography in particular is striking in its resolution (is this a digital development? an advance in lenses? Probably both). There are stars here – Brad Pitt (the father) and Sean Penn (eldest son) – but in secondary roles. The heart of the film is really with the three young boys, their earnest looks, awkward gestures and fleeting words captured in Malick’s trademark dawn and dusk settings to a rural hinterland. But once they all meet up in Heaven at the end of the film, which is basically a beach reached through a rocky desert, amid a host of people staggering around looking like zombies or stoned, you realise, that, for all the wonderful details, this is nonetheless a fatally flawed vision.

I give it a seven.
Last edited by CAP on Wed Jul 13, 2011 3:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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