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Greetings again from the darkness. Rare are the times that I find
myself lacking words to express my opinion on a movie just watched. But
writer/director Terrence Malick does not play fair. First of all, what
director makes five films in 40 years? Who makes a film about CREATION,
life, evolution, spirituality, death and existence? What director seems
to thrive when no real story is needed to make his points? Which
director can so mess with the viewer's head through visual artistry
never before seen on screen? The answer to these questions, of course,
is Terrence Malick. And I hold him responsible the fact that I remain
in somewhat of a semi-conscious fog four days after watching his latest
Any attempt to explain this film would be futile. It is so open to interpretation and quite a personal, intimate journey for any viewer who will free themselves for the experience. What I can tell you is that much of the film is focused on a typical family living in small town rural Texas in the early 1950's. Brad Pitt plays Mr. O'Brien, the stern disciplinarian father and husband to Jessica Chastain's much softer Mrs. O'Brien.
Near the beginning of the film, we get Mrs. O'Brien as narrator explaining that when she was a child, the nuns informed that in life one must choose between Nature and Grace. Nature being the real time of real life, whereas Grace is the more spiritual approach. Clearly, Mr. O'Brien has chosen Nature, while his wife embodies Grace. Watching their three boys evolve in this household is quite a treat - and is done with so little dialogue, it's almost shocking to the senses.
One of the many things that jumped out at me was the set and production design of Jack Fisk. Mr. Fisk is a frequent collaborator with Mr. Malick and is also the husband of Sissy Spacek, who starred in Malick's first film Badlands. Unlike many films, I did not have the feeling I was watching a film about the 50's. Instead, the look is directly IN the 50's ... slamming screen doors, tree houses, and family supper time! But don't think for a moment that this is a story about the O'Brien's and their sons. This family is merely Malick's vessel for showing the earthly connections between the universe and each of the particles within. If you think this sounds a bit pretentious, you should know that Mr. Malick graduated from Harvard with a philosophy degree, became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and a professor at MIT. This is a thinking man and an artist.
Actually I would describe the experience as viewing an art exhibit and listening to poetry. It really sweeps over and through you, and takes you on a trip of introspection. So many human emotions are touched - the need to be loved, appreciated and respected. We see the oldest O'Brien son later in life. Sean Penn plays him as a very successful middle aged adult who still struggles with the death of a brother and communication skills learned from his childhood. This is an odd sequence but provided to give balance to the flurry of emotions the younger boy survives.
This was the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or winner and that means little if you don't open up as you walk into the theatre. It's a contemplative journey that you can either take part in or fight. My advice is to open up and let this beautiful impression of all life take your mind places it may have never been before.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is this a movie about a hard-working 1950's father who, ground down by
the greed of the rich and the machinations of the patent court, and
mooning over having to give up a promising musical career as a young
man, takes out his frustrations on his rebellious eldest son? And those
hundreds of hammerhead sharks, are they supposed to represent the
Or, is this a movie about a lovely, loving, and beloved mother who, mourning over the loss of her eldest (or is it 2nd eldest?) son, questions the benevolence and even the existence of God until, with the aid of two beauteous angelic sylphs, she finally gives up her son to God? And what's with all those swirly astronomical scenes, billowing explosive clouds of gas, and pulsing glowing.... things? Are they supposed to represent her internal struggles with God?
Or, is it a movie about a boy on the cusp of sexual maturity, confused about the feelings evoked by fleeting glimpses of scantily clad neighborhood women in the heat of the summer, goaded by his neighborhood buddies into acts of cruelty and theft, resentful over the way in which his father treats his mother, his brothers, and himself, resentful of the pressure of guilt and remonstrance from his angelic mother, grows up to be, um, either dead or Sean Penn?
And why did that fleet carnivorous dinosaur, with his paw on the head of the abandoned baby herbivore, decide to saunter away, leaving his putative prey lying there still alive? Wasn't he hungry?
And about that gigantic, beached, prehistoric sea monster with the deep bloody gash in his side --- was that his head at the end of a huge neck twisting around to view the damage? Or was that the head of some other gigantic prehistoric beast who happened to be wandering by?
And what were all those slowly twisting spirally thingies? Were they spirochetes?
And was that the birth and death of the universe?
And why did they plant that tree? To memorialize the person who had crashed his bike and was flopping in death throes on the grass?
And was that the Horsehead Nebula? YES IT WAS!
Terence Malick's existential and experimental drama is truly something
special. When I first started watching the film, I was trying to figure
out what Malick was aiming to portray due to the film's somewhat
convoluted structure, but towards the end, I took in every aspect of
the film, the themes of family, of existence, of life in general. Many
see this as a hit-and-miss film, but unless you truly focus your
attention, you'll miss the point it's trying to make. Is it
pretentious? Indeed, but it's equally an amazing picture.
We sit for 2 hours and follow Jack, a young child growing up in a dysfunctional house with Brad Pitt playing (extremely well) his strict and overwhelming father in the 1950s. The story feels inspired by the likes of '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the art-house feel of Von Trier, but despite this, 'The Tree of Life' has its own unique and bold style that works well in creating a haunting and emotional visual treat, accompanied with fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain and stunning cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. 'The Tree of Life' is a bold and epic exercise from Malick that acts as a commentary on our society, a truly rewarding view.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was awful. Terrible. A waste of time.
I find it ridiculous that there are so many posts defending this film. It seems there are so many people out there who are fully ready to take in pointless stories and label them "deep" (by which they mean "made no sense whatsoever, which must mean its beyond our grasp")
I can forgive some films that choose form over content but not this. Where it isn't ripping off shots from documentaries like "Home" (I/2009) and "Planet Earth" and concepts from classics such as "2001", it is trying desperately to convey some sort of painful story with minimal basic dialogue and endless monologues of pointless drivel. Yes, parts of the cinematography were beautiful, the acting (especially from such young boys) was impressive, yet there was not one SINGLE original idea when it came to the script. There was absolutely no motivation for the viewer to stay glued to the screen. It was more a case of:, "Ooh, this woman is grieving for her dead son, but it doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things cos' there were also once dinosaurs roaming the Earth and there are big explosions and...here's a shot of orange smoke...you figure all this out since I couldn't be bothered." Really deep stuff... I actually paid money to see this. Argh.
And also - 8.0 out of 10? That's weird, that's seriously weird.
With Malick I usually come away with few things, simple wonderings
about meaning and the desire to transcend. But there is something here
worth talking about, a wondering that I believe matters. It is about
the great lie upon which we have placed all our hopes and has fed us
only suffering. It includes god but goes beyond, way beyond.
Those of us in the West trace it back to Descartes, the foundation of what we call our Enlightenment. The title of the 1641 book where he tells us that we are because we think translates as "Meditations touching the first philosophy in which the existence of God and the distinction between the body and soul are demonstrated". Imagine the yawning breach with the natural world that gives us to itself at birth; we posit that we are because we think, not because we simply are! This alone reveals it; a distinction between body and soul (and how the concept of God is born from it, in a mind that regards itself as separate from its vessel), that has produced a culture that considers everything a commodity, that revolves around pleasing the needs of one or the other. And about us perceiving things as what we are in need of and by our ideas of them.
The imaginary conundrum of duality goes way back, it's what the film starts with. A distinction between the way of nature and the way of grace, again body and soul. Implying there is no grace in the first and that a way of grace cannot be found in what we readily observe around us, in how the world simply presents itself to us (which includes our body and what sensations appear in it - either considered impure or to satiate), but needs to be separately thought by us. The nuns told us; about a world devised from nothing in the creator's own good time, and us separately placed in it, even created in a separate day from the rest of creation, to atone for an original sin.
This is the worldview we are born into. A world itself as punishment, which we are called to subdue to our satisfaction. Modern science has done little to improve it, only now we explain away in order to subdue and have replaced one creation myth with another.
Now both ways created by Malick, so that we can see where the lie begins. The creation of creation, from the Bing Bang onwards, rendered with overblown Wagnerian crescendos like what Kubrick did 40 years ago. Malick shows us here that mercy exists among the predators. And then us separately born into creation. The first words uttered by the infant are "it's mine", the first words uttered by the father a lesson to his young son about the imaginary line that separates his garden from the neighbor's and never to cross it.
In the second half of the film we get a few codas on what destructive illusions have evolved from these notions. How we should strive to obtain and subdue until satisfied, and to admit otherwise is weakness. And how the pursuit never satisfies the hunger, but only leads us to imagine a lacking in what we already have. And how we desperately cling to things, things felt as either ours or to be made ours, even as we know that they will come to pass.
But at the absence of the fatherly authority, we see how the kids become an aimless mob. And how the violence trickled inside the kid, eventually poisons and erupts.
Over the course of all this, we get Malick's tricly soliloquy that has always been the easiest to attack. "Was I false to you?", "forgive us", "where have you gone?". It's not my favourite aspect of his work, but I truly believe he's a feather-brained bard and deeply means it.
The rest is in the finale. It's not so much about closure that restores balance, but a process of emptying out and letting go of what has poisoned the soul. So that upon transcending the illusions of duality, remains only the unbound sentience of the world giving itself back to us.
Pitt is terrific in this, in ways he hasn't been before (compare to Ben Button that strived for a similar somber effect). But what truly stands out is the boy and the look of grief piling inside.
Malick tells us about his parents fighting inside of him, this is the great war in nature. Who of the two to become, without betraying the other? The one who loved harshly because he wanted his kids to have, or the one who loved tenderly but did nothing to alleviate the suffering in her own home.
So these are the two natures as falsely taught to us by the 'nuns', one as cautionary warning, the other to aspire to. The father as embodiment of the "nature that only wants to please itself", but that nature is only our false notion of a self, an ego that expects to be pleased. A tree doesn't please itself when it's watered, it takes only what it must to grow into what it has potential to be.
And the mother's way of grace that stoically accepts, also false because it accepts without complaint the injury of the innocent. The mother allows by her passive stance both her children and her husband to remain unhappy. So, who to be eventually, as grown men who have lived so long with grieves that are not ours?
Zen Buddhism hints at this and goes beyond, with its koan of koans (the enigmatic phrase that doesn't have an apparent answer yet demands one by the initiate, meant to tie his tongues in silent meditation); Zen Master Huìnéng asks, "Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born".
Something to meditate upon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I truly don't understand how so many reviewers found meaning to this lengthy, boring, pointless film. "We've been stepping on each other's necks since we were dinosaurs." Big deal! Large swaths of this movie are like watching a stranger's home movies. This is about a family who can't get past their own pain, whether it's large or small. It suggests that there really is no meaning to our suffering though we think there is. But I don't need a 2.5 hour movie with pretensions of grandeur to tell me this. Sean Penn stepping through a door frame in the desert. Gee, that's deep. Spend time with your actual family rather than watch this film.
Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," is a pretentious slide show of cosmic post-cards, with a story in the middle. This animated power-point reuses unashamedly the worst clichés of TV commercials (think of a two hours advertisement for a life insurance), and the most lurid scenes of Discovery Channel's documentaries. Malick resorts to an exquisite photography to illustrate embarrassing platitudes, and this experience is particularly unpleasant for the spectator. Malick's attempt is very ambitious, and he should be praised for that. Two movies written in a similar phenomenological vein come to my mind: Kubrick's 2001 and Tarkovski's Zerkalo. The last two movies, however, were balanced and perfectly executed. Alas, Malick's movie is redundant, heavy, sententious, excessive and sometimes even obscene, but not hopeless. For this lack of decorum ultimately depends on the editing, and Malick could drastically improve this movie if he remembered that the force of poetic forms relies on economy of language.
The film is already part of my subconscious. The pungent focus on a microscopic nucleus is as powerful as it is recognizable. The film renewed my love for film in one single viewing. It s a profoundly religious experience without being "fundamentalist" in any way. An artist's view made of distant memories who live in a permanent present. Brad Pitt is astonishing. That Irish-American, Catholic father from the 1950's is an X ray into something we've never seen, not on film that is. He arrives to levels of unimaginable clarity with very few words. It reminded of my father talking about his own father. I wept like a child. Jessica Chastain is also superb and the children, quite extraordinary. I can't wait to see it again.
I consider myself a fairly intelligent movie goer. I am someone who
have absolutely loved movies such as There Will be Blood, Babel, Old
Boy, Memento, Capote, Tokyo, etc etc. But this movie astounds me. It
astounds me and astonishes me in its absolute pointless stupidity. This
movie has absolutely no story (so to speak). And I'm sure movie
connoisseurs are going to behead me for saying stuff like this, but yes
this movie is like a headless chicken. Only one that is not running
around like crazy but still has no direction and is dying a very slow
I just do not understand that how a movie maker can be so self centered, self-hedonistic and narcissistic in his pursuit to compile his art into such a collection of crap. Agreed that this movie contains some great imagery. But you know what....Terrance Mallik almost starts coming across as this pretentious moron who just does NOT know the meaning of the word 'moderation'. Jesus Christ dude.... grow up, you're making a movie for god's sake, not turning in some PhD thesis in a film making school. Maybe your fellow students, colleagues might appreciate your effort but the audience who pay their hard earned money to go into the theater don't do so so some high headed director masturbates on his own effort while not once thinking whether the audience may or may not enjoy the story.
I am so so so disappointed in this movie and disappointed in the fact that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn chose to be a party to this charade...to this pretentious crap.
To non-aficionado regular YET intelligent movie goers like me, all I can say is that please save your time and money and stay away from this crappy movie that otherwise looks great only in the trailer. The trailer is what drew me to this movie....and thats all there is to it.
Arghhhh!!!!! I hate Tarrence Mallik's audacity with this movie and am going to stay away from all his movies going forward.
O.K, I'm a rationalist, and a supreme being, or a belief in such, plays
no role in my life. This doesn't mean, however, that I can't appreciate
a work that assumes a deistic definition of reality, but sitting
through the "Tree of Life" is like being forced to listen to a
seemingly endless Tent Meeting Sermon, gussied up with startling
photography and made a bit more politically correct by giving a nodding
acceptance to evolution (or at least to dinosaurs).
An artist has a right to impose his definition of reality upon us, but even if we leave Mr. Malick's pietistic beliefs aside, the reality he presents simply makes no sense historically and sociologically: We know from the family's name that they are Irish American Catholics, but the church they attend every Sunday seems to be ecumenicized. Aside from Brad Pitt's quick kneel (without crossing himself) and a flash of religious imagery, there is no trace of Catholic ritual (no Latin mass, no communion, no confession.) It's a homogenized Christian church, and the religion the family practices seems, really, quite Protestant. Such a non denominational Christianity would be believable in a secularized family, but religion is the center of this family's existence. In short, it's a piety that could not have existed in Waco in 1950.
But is it really 1950? It is assumed that the son who is killed was killed in combat. But in which war? From the costumes and cars, the action of the film when the boy to be killed was growing up was the early to mid 1950s; the boy is somewhere between 10 and 12. he was killed when he was 19, that is to say 7 to 9 years later. The date of his death, then, could be at the latest, 1964, when very, very few US military were killed. The serious fatalities among US military personnel didn't begin until much later. In short, possible, but highly unlikely. Moreover, the war itself is totally absent from the film. It was hardly absent from US society in the mid 1960s.
But the most absurd aspect of the film is Brad Pitt's character's relationship to his sons. His main function is to act as a stern, tyrannical disciplinarian. But he has to be humanized to show how much he really loves his sons. Otherwise, there would be no story. So, he is constantly kissing and embracing them. Such physical expression of paternal affection was all but unknown among Irish Americans, especially lower middle class Irish Americans in Texas. It is totally unbelievable. Especially since the character is not otherwise physically demonstrative; he hardly ever touches his wife, except to fend off her aggression.
That he is a musician manqué helps a bit; but even that is not particularly credible. Couperin in Waco in 1955? Please! In short, this is a family that never could have existed.
I'm sure a scientist could say similar things about Mr. Malick's version of the Creation.
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