This is always an interesting time of year for film watchers and fans because a lot of critics are choosing their “Best Of” lists and various industry awards are putting out their nominees – e.g. this week both the SAG and Golden Globe Awards nominees were announced, leading up to the granddaddy Oscar nominations next month. Right now, there seems to be a lot of love for The Artist and The Descendents.
But today’s death of Christopher Hitchens made me want to talk about what I think is probably the most polarizing film of the past year – Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life (polarizing because I think people will either love it or hate it). I don’t know if you’ve seen it – I think anyone curious about film should – but the film about a man reflecting on his youth in Texas and relationship with his parents is one of the most unusual that I think you’ll see this year.
I sort of liked it when I watched it and I’ve grown to appreciate it more after I viewed it. Parts of it made me tired and confused, and at various times I may or may not have been thinking the following thoughts:
- a) Is there going to be any dialog, like you know, between people?
- b) Why are you whispering?
- c) What is this – oh, of course, it’s the creation of the universe – oh look, vertebrates!
- d) What has Sean Penn ever done to me that I dislike him from first sight?
- e) This kid’s sort of dick.
- f) YAY DDT!
- g) Brad Pitt is good looking even when he isn’t really trying
- h) Stop whispering!
- i) Oh, it’s a metaphysical, metaphorical DOORWAY!!!
Now those comments might suggest that I wasn’t such a fan, but you know why I liked it? Because it TRIED. People whine and complain about Hollywood cookie-cutters movies and the latest bathroom-humor comedy and the endless sequels/prequels cycle. Then a movie like this comes along. I think this movie tries to be great. It tries to be a masterpiece. I don’t think that it is — I’m not sure, that will take more thought — but Malick swung for the fences. Oh — and it was beautifully filmed. Absolutely stunningly gorgeous.
And in the end, Malick uses this story to frame one of the most important scientific-philosophical-religious discussions in modern times: that 15 billion years of history and a billion of evolution on earth have funneled to the point so that people could debate a movie on computers, or they can fall in love and have kids that they love. Or don’t. Against the scope of the universe, our earthly lives are infinitesimal – and if they’re infinitesimal, does that make them meaningless? Get what you can before you’re snuffed out. Or is there something else to give them meaning? As humans, we seek to understand the Universe – and reach out to God and wonder if He exists – to make sense of it all.
I wonder if Hitchens saw it before he died and what he would have thought of it.
Have you seen it? Are you in the love it or hate it camp. I had one friend that saw it before I did and she hated it, so I think I went in with diminished expectations, so hopefully I haven’t raised any of yours too high, but I do hope it gets some Best Picture love.