The Tree of Life
In a world where films seem to be riddled with onomatopoeic levels of obviousness it’s refreshing to find a film so troublingly elliptical that it becomes hard to write about. Much has been said about the meaning of The Tree of Life and whether it’s a piece of genius or simply an average person’s idea of what a piece of genius might look like, and I can’t add more to that argument. What the film managed to elicit from me was a mixture of feelings; frustration, awe, confusion, dissatisfaction and a genuine, childlike sense of wonder.
I will state (for the record) that I don’t think there are particularly big ideas lying at the heart of The Tree of Life but for me at least, this doesn’t really matter. What it does have is a world-class filmmaker behind the lens with a touch and finesse to his picture that few others can even get close to. But where Badlands and Days of Heaven looked like heaven and had some semblance of a story here Malick forgoes that latter in order to strengthen the former. The lack of common narrative won’t matter if you buy into the whole ‘Tree of Life as creation story’ or ‘Tree of Life as religious parable’ ways of thinking but either I’m too obtuse to see it that way or the film just doesn’t have the emotional epicentre that it thinks it does.
That said I have never, in all my time on the earth, seen a better shot film. It has the same operatic scope as Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, especially when mixing almost mythological imagery with thunderous orchestral music. Whether we’re watching supernovas, dinosaurs or Brad Pitt, you cannot help but feel that Malick’s inimitable brand of filmmaking is washing over you. It’s an intoxicating experience but it’s one that, at almost 2 hours and 45 minutes, most viewers will be sick of. If you stomach a second ice cream (hands off the popcorn, back row texter) then what you’ll end up sitting through is a film unlike any other this century.
Malick has made what will surely come to be seen as a masterpiece. I don’t know what it’s about but it looks fantastic.