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I've just wasted my time reading 20 IMDb reviews for "Tree of Life",
both love-its and hate-its. They might as well be telling you how they
feel about the colour blue. Subjective, subjective, subjective.
So let's try something different. I'm not going to tell you whether I loved or hated this movie. I'm just going to tell you what to expect. Without either praising or disparaging this film, I'd describe it as being a mix of Fellini, Kubrick, IMAX and "Stand by Me".
This film is presented in 4 distinct acts, each lasting between 30-45 mins. The acts are very disjoint, and although they are woven together by common thematic elements, the experience can be very disorienting. The director seemed to pattern this film after Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" with its 4 contrasting sections.
Act 1: Setting. The film begins with a peek into the life of a 1950s American family that suffers a tragedy. It leaps forward and back in time, setting up the individual characters and their roles in the drama. Though presented in a very fragmented way, this part should be easy enough to follow.
Act 2: Tone. The next sequence, lasting about 30 minutes, is a very impressionistic journey through space, time and evolution. Be prepared. There may be a few voice-overs, but otherwise it's completely without dialogue, actors or events. The best way to describe it is to say it's like an IMAX film with the narration turned off. It's somewhat reminiscent of the "acid trip sequence" at the end of "2001".
Act 3: Plot. After that, we return to the 1950s. This 3rd sequence makes up the body of this film. Having established the setting & tone, the director gives us a story (more or less). It's presented in a series of vignettes focusing mostly on the love-hate relationship between a boy and his father. This mirrors the love-hate relationship that each character has with goodness. Both the father & son are jerks struggling to become good, each in his own way. This portion of the film reminded me of a dark, disturbing version of "Stand By Me".
Act 4: Conclusion. We return to another impressionistic sequence, this time including the main characters and short bits of dialogue & voice-overs. To some of the audience it may give closure & satisfaction. To others, it may just plain suck.
For the sake of presenting an objective review, I'll withhold my own opinion. But I did want to mention some of the reactions I observed in the theater and in the parking lot afterwards. In an audience of about 100, I saw 4 people walk out. (Well, 5, but I think that guy just spilled lemonade on himself.) Most of the audience seemed attentive, but I did hear a lot of yawns and uncomfortable fidgeting. When the end credits came up there was dead silence as everyone filed out. It was pretty uncomfortable. In the parking lot there was a man who hated the movie so much I feared for my life. Seriously, this guy was about to plow his car through a storefront. Others praised the film's technical merits and cinematography but remained lukewarm, if not mostly negative, with their overall impression. Several people were intent on discussing the films philosophical merits, but this only infuriated the angry guy, so everyone just went home.
If I were to compare this to other films/directors, I'd say it's very Tarkovsky-like (Stalker, Mirror, etc). As I mentioned above, it's also much like Kubrick's "2001"--if you were to strip out the suspenseful parts about Hal and the Discovery. Perhaps it's also a bit like Wim Wenders' "Paris Texas" in that it wanders around a lot before coming to its destination.
I don't expect the majority of viewers to agree with me as it already
has a decent rating, but if you searched for people who hated this film
then I suspect you will probably dislike it, and I am going to spare
you the unfortunate experience I had of going to see it.
Just to state my preferences and for your orientation, I have enjoyed many of the artistic offerings from the IMDb top recommendations, but I prefer my fare more straightforward.
I'll just fly in the face of protocol now and say I had no clue what this film was about. I wanted to leave after 20 minutes but my girlfriend insisted to stay to the end to see what the point was. Other people did leave in the middle of the film and there was a lot of fidgeting going on in the cinema. For the first time in my life I dozed off for a few minutes in a cinema.
There is no plot - only a stream of images following two boys through their childhood and also a flashback to the the creation of the earth. The cinematography was quite impressive but the overall result was oh-so-dull. I am sure there was a point but I just could not be bothered to try to understand it.
Apologies to aficionados. I don't mean to be derogatory about this film. I only want to save some people from sitting through it who would not like it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the most pretentious pieces of pseudo-intellectual garbage I have ever seen. The photography is great, however that is not what a film is about. The whole film turns around a guy and his relation with is father and the burden of his brother's death. really simple story, with no need for mental masturbation over two and one half hours. I'm willing to bet that in the near future no one will ever remember this film. This film gathered another award: my life's greatest cinematic disappointment. Cannes' boys are lowering their standards, I think. Instead of this i suggest you guys rent "the fountain" because it has far better photography and a much, much nicer story. Here's the link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0414993/
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To be honest, I went to watch Midnight in Paris but arrived 10 minutes late, so I went to see The Tree of Life. To be honest again, I don't like Terrence Malick movies that much. However, I convinced myself to sit through it until the end no matter what. It was horrible. I mean, no matter how abstract a movie is, there must be something the viewer can cling to, something the viewer cares about. This movie has nothing like that. The funny thing is, the set-up is fairly quick: in 10 minutes you know what the deal is. Sean Penn is a middle-aged man reflecting on the meaning of life and reminiscing on his somewhat estranged relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) and the loss of his brother in the Vietnam war. After those 10 minutes, nothing that happens in the movie changes that. There's just no development, it s a bunch of short cuts (honestly, the longest cut might be 10 seconds long) showing the family life in the 1950s (very much like home movies) mixed with images of space, Earth in its beginnings, dinosaurs (I'm not kidding) etc. It beggars belief that the crummy hacks out there calling themselves critics say this movie is a "masterpiece" and draws comparison with Kubrick's 2001. Is it because of the slow pace and special effects? Kubrick used those for a reason: to tell a story, to help advance the plot and create a sense of expectation and/or suspense. The Tree of Life is nothing like that, because there's simply no plot. You don't know who to root for or sympathize with. There's no hero, no challenge, no arc. It's just a 2 1/2 hour collage of short scenes. I saw several people leaving the room after just 15 minutes of projection; others kept checking their watches every few minutes (myself included.) It's a pity really, because the performances are quite good, particularly the kids in the 1950s sequence and Brad Pitt as the stern father discharging his career frustrations on the wife and kids. Sean Penn is there too, but he's useless: the director gives him nothing to do, so he just makes ugly faces at the camera as if he's suffering from terrible heartburn. In short: save your money.
The first thing to say about 'The Tree of Life' is that it is ESSENTIAL
VIEWING for anyone who believes that the cinema is a great art, and an
early front-runner for 'Film of the Decade'. I first heard about this
project in the early 80s when the film world was awash with rumours
that Malick had a project that was 'Cosmic, too cosmic even for
Hollywood' (John Sayles). And, being a number one fan of Malick's
magical realism, I have been metaphorically holding my breath ever
Normally, in describing a film one says this is the story of... da da da da. But this film is NOT a story in any but the crudest sense of the word. It is an impression... an impression of a childhood - perhaps Malick's own childhood, which becomes, through Malick's poetry, an impression of childhood itself... of being tactile, of feeling the love of one's parents, of experiencing the arrival of a sibling, of learning to walk... of a thousand things that we take for granted, but are wonderful and shape us more than we can imagine. It is by far the most brilliant evocation of rural childhood that, as far as I can remember, the cinema has ever given us.
This is a film of gesture and movement, of happiness and insecurity, of learning to love and learning to fear. It is unlike any commercial film I have ever seen.... it is as if Stan Brakhage had been given a $100 million budget. The trouble is that Malick may have been too uncompromising. Many, perhaps, sadly, most, of the film-going public, in my experience, find abstraction in films difficult. This is the most abstract film most of them will probably ever see... but it's wonderful and moving and visually stunning. So the question is will they stick with it. With immense sadness, I have to say that I have my doubts.
The much vaunted 'history of the universe' sequence is stunning and is like a poetic editing of all of the most stunning images from science documentaries. It adds even more gravitas to a film that is as philosophically weighty as it is visually impressive. Douglas Trumbull was a special effects consultant and many might immediately think of comparing this sequence with the 'Stargate' climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film's philosophical/metaphysical weight rests, to some large extent on its deeply ingrained spirituality. Of course, this aspect has been there from the beginning with Malick, but here it is much more up-front. The film charts the paths of a family of characters. In the mother's opening line of dialogue she recounts how 'The nuns told us that there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace.' In the film, the characters show how much the difference between these two paths influences the personalities of the characters and the lives that they lead.
Because of this, it has a profound religious sense but without trace of piety or sentimentality. And if, like me, religion is not your thing, don't worry, the film's wonders do not require belief to reveal themselves.
There remains to be said a few words on Malick's stylistic approach. All of his films are incredibly visually rich, 'The Tree of Life' is no exception. But more important even than this is that large sections of 'The Tree of Life' are made in the magical style that he monumentalised in the two 'abstract' sections of 'The New World' - the love affair between Capt Smith & Pocahontas and the amazing final 20 minutes of the film covering her death. It is this fusion of magnificent meaningful imagery and musical montage that lifts this work to levels barely conceived of by most filmmakers.
'The Tree of Life', for all its wonders, is certainly not perfect as it seems again that Malick's dislike for dialogue has become a thorn in his side, as it was for 'Days of Heaven' and we get some embarrassing pauses as characters wordlessly confront one another or stare meaningfully into the void. It is not the matchless masterpiece to challenge 'Citizen Kane' that I was secretly hoping for, but it is wondrous and moving and unforgettable, a staggering piece of cinema that gives the impression of being immensely more meaningful than it appears at first sight... one just needs to put all of the pieces together... not in the narrative sense, for there is barely any narrative, but connecting up Malick's, 'universal' vision with the images of childhood that he presents. An example here is the confrontation between the two dinosaurs that has a resonance with the relationship between young Jack and his father.
All in all, this is one of those films, where it is more important to let one's psyche experience the incredible richness of the film's emotions, than to try to understand it intellectually - at first viewing, at any rate! (And I am sure that Malick would concur about the experience versus understanding conundrum.)
Finally... it is a very, very good idea to watch 'The New World' immediately before seeing 'The Tree of Life' - on DVD or VOD (if it is not being shown locally by some insightful cinema) because, stylistically, it puts you in the 'right groove' to appreciate Malick's cinematic expression... perhaps THE wonder of modern cinema.
How do you watch such a film? You've got to lower any defenses you
have. You've got to not allow yourself to try to make a sense out of
everything you see. You've got to take it all, and let it enter you,
just as smoothly as the film enters dinosaurs, cells, planetary
evolution, or a simple living room of a troubled family. Make no
judgements, consider nothing except the pure experience of being there,
wherever the film takes you. Search no explanation, for there was no
real rational reason other than intuition for images to be as they are.
Imagine a film about everything, with a remote storyline that talks about every theme, in every possible time of the world.
Imagine a film without a beginning or an ending. Circular meta-narratives, where you can pick up on any spot (i mean any) and you can create whatever inner narrative you want. A sky of images (like the mosaic poster of the film) where you can pick your own choices, and create whatever story you like. Or you can choose to frame the more palpable story visible in the film in whatever fashion you want. Up to you. The challenge is that you have to test the limits of your own imagination to live the film in its full extent. Nothing is predefined. Go wherever you want.
Now imagine all that delivered by someone who spent his entire film life trying to walk around the idea of plain old narrative layering. The absolute master of unrelated narratives, of off-screen details. The man who films hands and corn fields when he wants to say love; Who shoots the universe to build one of the most powerful expressions of intimacy, of mind's solitude in the film world. Contrast.
I don't know if this is the best film ever made. It probably is the strongest experience in film world that i got first hand, while it was coming out, new.
What is it? a film inside Sean Penn's head? a Story framed in the universe? part of it? metaphor for it?
I've heard a lot about how this film is a kind of 2001. I don't think so. Kubrick and Malick are 2 different kinds, 2 different approaches, purposes, different process, and different outcomes. Kubrick bends narratives to a point of perfection. Obsessive. Chess leaked all over filmmaking. Malick is the other end of the stick. Pure visual intuition, enhanced by Malick's intellectual background. Just because both directors are little fond of public appearances, and because both this and 2001 feature planets, that doesn't bring the films closer.
In 1963, Cortázar published one of the most important books of the last century, Hopscotch. The title of this comment is related to its original title, in Spanish. I think this film and that book have similar aspirations. Trace your path, you have the chapters, but you have to make an order out of them.
How this is done is in pure mastery of every tool of film conception. Every image counts, each shot was taken care with competence and passion, each frame, each camera move - Lubezki has worked with Malick, Iñarritu, Cuarón. Each collaboration adds a lot to what is being done. He really can read the director's aspirations, and deliver nothing short of mastery. At this time he has entered enough important projects to be considered one of the best cinematographers ever.The editing is world class. Every cut, whether the space virtual shots or the family scenes, matter to the narrative, whatever that is. What takes this to a whole new level is how, in this film, Malick tops his already incredible leverage of music. Editing has always equally present the visual as well as the sound scapes. Watch it, let it get absorbed.
This film demands an incredible lot from you, as viewer. It demands that you be a different person after watching you, that indeed you may change your generic approach to film- watching, or at least that you accommodate in you a new way to watch films. On a basic level it's about Malick's intuitions. On another level, it's about what you get on screen. But ultimately it's all about how you place yourself in the universe proposed.
My opinion: 5/5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After seeing this movie, I sincerely cannot comprehend all the hype and
the excellent reviews that it has attracted. The only way I can explain
such good reviews is that whoever wrote them have either been
generously paid to do so or were high on dope while doing so. This was
the first time ever I have felt so angry about wasting my time and
money watching a bad movie. The only reason the movie may have
attracted so much attention is the fact that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn
were acting in it. However, I felt that their talents were completely
wasted on one of the most pointless and most boring movies I've ever
Usually, I can sit through a bad movie, but this one bored me immensely within the first 10 min. I still do not understand what the director was trying to portray with the shots of volcanoes, planets, dinosaurs (terrible animation versions) and jellyfish (??). Half of those shots appeared to be borrowed from the Planet Earth series, except portrayed in an incomprehensible and boring manner. There was not a single instance that kept my attention and interest. I was especially irritated by the fact that the movie had a very strong religious streak, which the "good" reviews did not mention. The entire movie was a bunch of disconnected, pointless scenes thrown together, and the ending was especially annoying, with everybody in the family ending up in 'heaven'. I would compare the movie to those useless pieces of contemporary art that depict a monochromatic shape in the middle of a canvas, and attempt to convince us that there is some deeper bullshit meaning to it. I am particularly angry at all the reviewers that rated this movie so well. This movie is a total rip-off!
First of all, for those who have not yet read reviews, let me start by
saying that this is not your "Brad Pitt/Sean Penn" labeled blockbuster.
Also, I would like to add that, if you really want to take in as much as possible (trust me there is a lot to take in), then you should go see this movie, relaxed, not tired, and in a receiving state of consciousness (I watched it last night at 2200hrs, after a very very long difficult day) and I am seriously considering re-watching it on a Saturday night...
It is practically impossible to summarize this film, in a few words, but what this film does to you, mostly I think, is take you back to your childhood days, and bring back, re-ignite all these long lost first moments/feelings/discoveries/guilts. Do you remember the first time you had a fight with your parents? What crossed your mind? what did you feel?.....apply this to all the first times and you might get something that feels like this film.
This film blends all the above with imaginary scenes from the creation of the cosmos, how all is connected, how did we get here? why? what did God really have to do with this? or is God in other words Love?
You have to see for yourself, and I believe each and every one of us will have his own different experience which is exactly what real Art is.
Bravo, to the Director, Producers and Cast.
I saw The Tree Of Life last night. Just like Sean Penn, who spends the
day in the office remembering about his brothers and family, the most
urgent thing I feel I have to do this morning is to write about the
movie. I haven't be so much impressed by a story, a song or a a film
from a very long time.
It should go without saying, but let me tell you that this is not a film you should see if you just want to stop thinking about your life for a couple of hours. This should be kind of automatic, i know: but it's worth mentioning, as it would be really a pity to see flourishing such comments or opinions like "i was expecting something else" or "it's very slow paced" or "i didn't really understand that part of the story". Go watch this movie if you want (or: if you NEED) to think about yourself and your life and your story and your future MORE than you usually do, not less. Go watch this movie if you want to find a companion voice wondering together with you about what kind of relationship can be found between our personal stories and the story of the universe, between the quickness of a lizard running across a summer cornfield in Texas and the infinite spaces dividing the countless stars of the universe, between the tenderness of the love that you felt for your parents as a child and the plain fact that in order to grow up, to reproduce that love, you had to leave that child and that love behind you. The voice will help you to realize that the missing links are actually there, in front of your eyes; that in order to see them, your eyes must be open; and that regaining the innocence that seemed lost forever is the key, and the result, of understanding and accepting the presence of those links, opening your eyes.
Tree of Life is not a lecture, it's not a sermon: it's an honest flow of memories, meshed with inventions and dreams. It's a masterpiece. I don't feel like making technical remarks here, with this lone exception: everybody will talk about the magnificence of the images of the universe, the ones about the story of the world. I was struck, instead, by the way children were depicted in this movie: the camera is always at the same level of their eyes and after a while you really feel a kid yourself, a friend of them, a member of the pack, playing with them, one of them, again.
Strongly suggested to anybody, as long as you are looking for relax through relief, not relief through relax. But, in the end, The Tree Of Life it's a work easy to understand for anybody who's in the proper mindset - and yes, "everybody" includes even your children: in the worst case they will sleep through it, but hopefully they will stay awake, as they will feel perfectly comfortable with the family stories (since they are told with an honesty they will recognize as very close to their own). Eventually, maybe, they will wonder together with you about the meaning and the magnificence of the images retelling the story of the universe and time. Otherwise, as I said, they will sleep - but peacefully.
Unlike a novel the stories in this movie do not unfold, revelation following revelation, culminating in a definable message or theme. There is no moral, no hero, no emotional epiphanies. What it presents is an extraordinarily haunting vision of childhood, how the things we love the most are as fragile as morning dew yet immensely powerful. The things that connect us, separate us, and bewilder us - again and again and again throughout our lives. The saddest, most insightful, most poignant portrayal of a family I have ever seen. Genius. How can this film achieve commercial success? it seems impossible. How did a film so ambitious get made when everything that makes money today is everything this film isn't? Bravo to the producers, bravo to the early critics who are stepping up and speaking out for this deeply moving masterpiece.
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