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"Father, Mother. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will"
Before going into the film's review, let me outline my lack of any knowledge of the director. This film is my first encounter with Terrence Malick. Therefore, I cannot identify with certain aspects of the director's standard aspects and compare this movie with other of his productions. No right chance had come to see one of his films until recently when I saw THE TREE OF LIFE on the big screen (it's important to mention the movie theater because its grand scale images do play a decisive role in aesthetic impressions ONLY on the big screen). However, its influence does not so much correspond to impressions but feelings.
I have decided to quote the words that the young protagonist Jack O'Brien (Hunter McCracken) says. Those words nicely resemble the gist of this movie and, somehow, anticipate or even prefabricate the praise and criticism that will arise. It is really strange how extreme the opinions about such movies are. They provoke viewers: people either love it or hate it. That is, in itself, stimulating enough to feel motivated for such genres. Yes, because Malick's film is not for everyone, it is not an easy film but a picture that really prompts you to think, reflect, see the characters and yourself within them. It asks difficult questions, wrestles with them, looks for answers elsewhere than in predictable contexts. Not everyone can agree with that and it is perfectly alright and natural. The film is not meant to agree with it but rather to feel stimulated, provoked, encouraged to draw some conclusions. THE TREE OF LIFE is actually a thought provoking depiction of human life, its cycles, and one important fact...
"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow." That is what Jack's mother tells at the beginning setting the right tone for the film's content. Unbelievable! A human being is not a mere creature, sheer nature. A human being is also supplied with...grace and, most importantly, has a choice! The choice of two ways! Michael Frost accurately analyzes this aspect that retains actually throughout: the struggle of grace vs nature, struggle of giving vs taking, pleasing others vs pleasing oneself, being driven by force vs being driven by compassion; yelling vs whispering; fist vs open hand; unrestrained greed vs absolute benevolence. Michael Frost sees Malick's movie as "a staggering meditation on the meaning of life, the presence of God, the character of human nature, and the perpetual longing for grace." Following this very thought, we could ask 'where does this perpetual longing come from? Where are its roots?
Malick majestically and humbly supplies us with a story of a family - the smallest unit within any society and within the universal co-existence of giving and receiving. Although the movie begins with the tragedy of their child's death and, naturally, the questions that arise within parents, the sorrows that infect their lives, our attention is directed towards a stronger brother, Jack (Sean Penn) who is a grown up man and yet is haunted by the experience of his childhood. Freud's followers would immediately attempt at psychoanalyzing this character's phobias...though Malick looks for interpretations/explanations/justifications elsewhere. In the Bible where even such brave concepts as the dawn of time and the dawn of any existence can be addressed.
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4,7)
However, the film is not religious. Although the director represents one particular denomination, his film is foremost spiritual and skips all shadows of dogmas for the sake of addressing any human being. He supplies us with the truly majestic sequence: the splendor of creation, the marvelous shots of nature, the breathtaking eruptions of volcanoes, the mysterious images of the earth within the universe. This sequence, as well as the dream sequence set in the afterlife, appear to be a little away from this world, an oasis for the emotions of the viewers. Most importantly, however, at first sight, this all may seem to collide with the storyline, being there for no special reason...yet, as you see the dinosaur scene, you may be misled. This scene shows the universal aspect of the aforementioned struggle and...choice being made. But, let me now address the most down-to-earth aspect of the film.
Jack's story, beautifully depicted by Hunter McCracken, appears as a coming-of-age drama. Along with these uplifted images of nature, the angelic benevolence of his mother (Jessica Chastain), he is an ordinary boy living in a conflicted family. The 'wrestling' of his parents is ever present within him (Brad Pitt deserves particular attention in this role making for a sophisticated character of luxurious tastes and selfish drives). On the one hand, Jack delights in harming a weak frog, letting his puberty tensions erupt, letting his juvenile years be spent on keeping company with his pals; on the other hand, he struggles with questions that arise in himself, he cannot stand the violence he sees in his home and suffers as long as he realizes that he is a mere reflection of his dominant father (whom he seemingly detests). That character with the growing sexual drives would be a perfect 'material' for a Freudian stimulus and response and yet, THE TREE OF LIFE develops a juvenile character in a different manner. He is also a part of the universe, its grandeur, its uplifting beyond the animistic drives (the dream sequence highlights that).
It all makes THE TREE OF LIFE a unique creative production filled with a very optimistic concept of human life, mankind in general that experience hard ways towards radiant crown by rising above and facing a dilemma:
"Nature, Grace. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just broke the DVD before sending it back to Netflix so I can feel
assured that I did not contribute to anyone else wasting their time
with this film!
SPOILER ALERT (Be Warned!): Movie starts... Volcano, clouds, trees, dinosaurs, waves, babies, nebulous, door in ocean, sunflowers, random family has some random emotions with no conflict or antagonist or dialogue, 3 hours later Sean Penn walks around building anxiously, grand canyon... movie over. For those of you who gave this movie a positive rating, thanks for ruining my night; I trusted you. For those of you that say this movie is deep, please watch any other film ever produced and you will be blown away with its depth (maybe start with Shrek 3, don't want to blow your mind too much...). Deep requires *some* form of message, content, theme, or anything... Just because nobody understands it, that doesn't mean it is deep!
Ughh... so annoyed with my wasted night. The only redeeming thing about this movie is the comical fact that I hung on 'til the end. I thought I might get a surprise ending that would tie all of the nonsense together. Surprise!!! Still just a bunch of random nonsense!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Tree of Life: Lots of promise. Big named actors. Great
cinematography. Failed execution. In reaching to be art it failed at
it's core need; capturing emotion. Actually it failed with a dearth of
acting; filling the hour and a half with Discovery Channel HD footage,
some voice overs, a canonical sound track, and 15 minutes with those
previously-mentioned big names actors. It's meant to be about a family
that lost a son and how they deal with it over the years. You get that
from the 5 to 10 minutes of acting in the first 30. From there the
screen writer loses his way and flails around, unsuccessfully grasping
for it the rest of the time. I'm reminded of how Ed Wood shot random
footage of Bela Lugosi and cut it into Plan 9 From Outer Space. Both
directors must have done similar things with their lead actors. "Now
give me anguish". Only later editing in the 15 to 30 minutes of script
with an hour of filler stock footage from the Hubble Telescope,
Hawaii's volcanoes, some CGI dinosaurs left over from a SyFy Channel
movie, and various travelogues.
If you're in the mood for drama and loss, then put your time to better use by watching Beautiful Boy instead.
I tried watching it sober, tried watching it high... made no difference. Avoid this film unless you wanna torture yourself with pseudo-intellectual randomness. Quotes from my house-mates: "It sucked." "I ruined my mood." "Wtf". "I feel empty inside." "I don't understand why it's so highly rated." "They constantly try to trick you that something interesting will actually happen." "Dude I am traumatised from that last movie." "I hope this gets posted." Well, additionally you really get to wonder what the director had in mind, or perhaps what his perception of reality was twisted by ... I would not watch it again if you paid me for it. A definite no-no if you value your time.
An amazing thing about this film was that none of the movie goers in
the relatively crowded theater in Tokyo where I saw it didn't leave
before the film was over. I was even more amazed that I didn't leave
before it ended. But most amazing of all was that the film didn't
implode on itself into a black hole of ravenous boredom. I don't mean
to be a git or a crank, and I have seen many great films in my life.
And I've seen over 50 films this year in total, but this film amazed me
over and over again at how terribly boring it was. It was like I waited
for it to start, waited all the way up to the very end.
Obviously, people are liking this flick. I asked my brother about it who is a high brow filmmaker dude, and if I want to get this review published here, I cannot repeat in a decent online forum what he said about it. Translation: he said it was bad, very bad. But it does have redeeming qualities. There is plenty of emotion in it and empathy. I could empathize with the kids and the parents. I could feel the pathos. But I didn't need to sit through 2 hours of rambling disconnections to get a dose of empathy. I could have seen a few photos of people in trouble, dealing with death, and I would have come a way with a feeling of empathy, and not have wasted 2 hours enduring an artistic "disaster piece."
I couldn't believe this would happen, I'm generally respectful toward a
film and try to watch till the last second to make my opinion, but this
one was too much for me ... I left after 67 minutes. If a movie demands
respect, it should at least respect the viewer. Basically, the first
half of the movie simply didn't convince me to watch the other half.
I was ready to love it, to get myself transported in a cinematic dimension that would make me discover the innate beauty or the futility, the magnificence or the pointlessness of life, but after 15 minutes, I thought the movie lasted one hour and was waiting for the end ... it was 10 minutes of a long 'creation' sequence that made "2001: A Space Odyssey" look like "Speed"...
Does a movie need to feature a succession of stunningly visual shots totally disjointed with some mystical words whispered in voice-over, to be considered a masterpiece, that's it? and the name of a director who only made five films? I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but sometimes, I had the feeling that just because Terence Malick made a few films, they were all good, you know the whole 'quantity doesn't match quality' equation ... well, I hated every single leaf of this "Tree of Life" as much as I loved every second of "Badlands", and don't count me among the followers of this current Terrence Malick's cult as if he was the Revelation, the New Kubrick!
Or am I supposed to be ecstatic and condition my brain to enjoy this; because this is so unusual it must have an incredible meaning I shouldn't miss ... what's that? is that what 'art' movies are coming to, so weird it's good, so you can pretentiously declare that the movie touched a special nerve, reminded you of something personal ... and use such big words as "haunting", "transcending" as if we were watching 'philosophy in motion'? I'm sorry but whatever point it was trying to make, and I'm sure the director had good intentions , we didn't need that whole creation sequence ... I don't think life is such a 'big' subject you must prevent average movie goers from enjoying a film dedicated to it. I concede the part with the boys was interesting, and that the whole film could have begun like that, but no, it had to provide an endless 'origin of the world' sequence in a Kubrickian emulation ... well, I was upset, the dinosaur parts set me off psychologically and the whole dizziness of the direction, especially during the 'Sean Penn' part made me seasick ... well, I stop here ...
I needed an aspirin after the film, I had one, I felt better ... but I just don't get how Malick could have gone from "Badlands" to 'this', and how 'this' could have won the Golden Palm. I saw "Badlands" and I was mesmerized, I don't necessarily consider myself as an old-school movie fan, I love to be left shocked, stunned or hypnotized by a film, and I expected this one to be a quite unique experience. But as I said, after 15 minutes, the direction gave me a headache (literally) and I was upset and seasick (physically) ... people were already walking out of the theater but I was telling myself to "stay calm", to "be patient" and I thought my patience was rewarded when started the part with the family ...
... but after one hour, and a few minutes that seemed like a painful eternity, I felt the need to go outside, I couldn't wait one more hour ... it was just a succession of good scenes on their own, but the assemblage was chaotic, self-indulgent and I don't even want to use the word 'pretentious'. I know, one can say the same about abstract painting, but in my opinion, cinema is a very particular art that shouldn't overestimate our abilities to get many messages at the same time, complex doesn't mean complicated, and I may be wrong but I think a movie should be accessible on the surface to hide many meanings and symbols when you go deeper in its analysis.
All the great movies are about something simple, entertaining or captivating and that you can summarize very easily, "Casablanca" is a love triangle providing a hard choice to make between duty and love, "Godfather" is about succession, "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is a quest for gold leading to paranoia etc. etc. A movie must work on 2 levels and whatever you put on the first, the second should be entertainment.
To conclude, despite all the efforts, I couldn't love it, even if I wanted to fake my sentiment, I couldn't ... I couldn't forgive this soulless non-sense ... yes, soulless, despite the intent to portray a sort of universal representation of life, I just thought it was the kind of film (especially the first sequence) that you would either screen in a sect's showroom, either watch after having consumed some illicit substances. Or I wasn't in the right mood ... but I really wanted to like and failed to appreciate its beauty, my mistake but I don't think you can make a masterpiece out of artistically good intentions ...
Or I can also take a camera and zoom on a candle while its flame is fading, and put Tchaikovski's music in the background, and a woman in voice-over whispering : "help ... help .... help ..." and I would title this : "Amnesic Plenitude", and if you don't like it, well, you just don't get the symbolism ...
Cinema is an art whose nobility rhymes with its ability to entertain you. Cinema is a serious Art that shouldn't take itself too seriously. This movie takes itself far too seriously and seriousness is not an excuse for boredom and lack of enjoyment ...
The movie "The Tree of Life" is a pretentious pile of crap, while
watching I was thinking at all the things I could do instead, then I
moaned my £4... Never been so angry at a director, anyone who likes
that film won't be my friend anymore.
Bottom line it is an insult to cinema, not even worth talking about the storyline (God complex) or the waste of the actors' talent for that matter.
Compared to Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier is master of entertainment and I rather stick needles dipped in acid into my eyes than enduring Dogville again..
You've been warned!
I was trying very hard to watch Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." After seeing two hours of completely non-intersecting footage, such as unexplained looks of 1. anguish, 2. fear, 3. depression, and 4. wonderment, with none of these being connected in any sort of palpable manner, I started to feel faint/distraught myself. There were mundane scenes of a tyrannical father at dinner with his family, then a shot of a family of hammerhead sharks, then a volcano, then sunspots. This is not art. This is a man confused about his cinematic intention. Is this a National Geographic video, a ripoff of 2001 A Space Odyssey, or a takeoff on Archie Bunker? This is not cinematic genius. This is either an example of unbelievable self-indulgence, or psychosis. It's a lot harder to make a movie that has a plausible storyline than it is to merely make a two-hour series of free-associations. The latter requires no intellectual rigor, vision, or discipline. The mystery to me is how Malick is able to get backers to indulge him and finance such unwatchable, narcissistic claptrap.
Claude Monet is one of my all time favorite artists. And I just happen
to have a wonderful book featuring many of his paintings that is one of
my most treasured possessions. Yet, if someone approached me and asked
me for a good book to read, I would never for a moment contemplate
giving this book a high rating. Simply put, while there is text
describing the paintings, there is no story, no plot, no character
advancement. It is not literature.
And now, in IMDb, we are asked to tell others if the film The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick is a good movie to watch. The answer is "No." One of Malick's editors was quoted as saying, ""Our focus was to make it more of an experience and not about plot." Okay. Enough said for those of you who want to watch a storyline. Skip this film and stop reading now.
This had the potential to be a much better movie. The premise (and the deceiving previews) were solid and that was what pulled me in. The idea of looking at the outwardly idyllic 1950s family and childhood innocence as something of a darker influence that colors a man's viewpoint and actions throughout his life would have been interesting. At issue is that Malick divides his film into three distinct segments: Beautiful (but endless) cinematic sequences of evolution/nature, vignettes of Jack O'Brien's childhood as portrayed by Hunter McCracken, and brief snippets of Sean Penn's interpretation of Jack as a late middle aged man.
But the film fails to progress anything. Even as imagery. The movie is "interrupted" for twenty-two minutes of evolution montage. While stunningly beautiful, it is still a jarring experience that does not successfully build on what preceded and followed it. It is as if you are suddenly transported into the theatre next door and then magically transported back to the film you started watching. Sean Penn needed not be an actor in the film. We get absolutely no insight into Jack O'Brien past pre-adolescence; Penn is more of a prop than performer. His presence on screen was merely to tell the audience, "See, this man is remembering his childhood." Malick spends most of his time in the 1950s. He does succeed in giving us nice glimpses into character interactions in the O'Brien family particularly around Jack and his father (Brad Pitt) and his younger brother. Here's my main complaint about these segments they lead nowhere. A seminal event happens about eleven years later when Jack's brother dies at the age of nineteen. Do we get to experience that? No. In fact, beyond a few gratuitous "Jack as a baby" or "Jack as a toddler" scenes, our entire window into Jack's life is within likely a single year of his life at most. This deprives the audience of seeing growth and psychological cause and effect.
If you want to focus on such a narrow time period, Terrence, then please have something dramatic happen. This is a movie, after all. If you want us to experience the fullness of a life experience, Terry, then give us a view of Jack past the age of twelve. We do see young Jack get angry, get elated, get jealous, get belligerent, and so on. We do not see growth or change in Jack. The afterlife scene on the beach was so hackneyed, that even the TV show Lost managed to do it better.
Without character development, I felt like I was given two telescopes. One that would pick up random family interactions in the 1950s and one anchored in the heavens watching the vibrant creation of the world, or perhaps the Discovery Channel.
Bottom Line. As a movie, one star. As art? If Malick would have maintained his artistic focus, five stars. Since he did not, I will give him two.
I won't write a hate review because no one will read it, but for the movie-goer that expects an engaging film: stay away. This movie starts by putting us to sleep with a half hour of nature/trippy/music montages that could've been cut down to about 5 minutes. Things slowly (slowly) pick up as we learn more about this boy and his family, by the end we have gotten the concept of loss of innocence and all that, but at what cost? This movie should not have exceeded 60 minutes. By the end you are left wondering why you spent so much time on such an undeveloped story. So if the first hour doesn't bore you then by all means watch the movie, otherwise just leave because it really doesn't get better.
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