Movie Musings: The Tree Of Life

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.

Pitt as dad

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.

A Different Part of the Tree

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.

Big Questions

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.


21 thoughts on “Movie Musings: The Tree Of Life

  1. Whenever someone says “you either love it or you hate it” I am always on the fence.
    I liked this movie but I didn’t love it. The creation of the universe thing, while mesmerizing, was way too long. I think it went on for at least 20 minutes.I was actually squirming in my seat, and I am not a squirmer, movies that other people think are boring I ‘get’ (okay except The English Patient, I was more in Elaine Benes’ camp on that one). When the dinosaurs showed up I almost laughed. But you’re right, I dislike the formulaic Hollywood films and I appreciate Terrence Malick and what he brings to film. I liked this, (and I have a fondness for Texas, so I enjoyed the setting) but I think it could have been better. I liked The Thin Red Line better, and I also saw that in the theater (I appreciated it more the second time around I think). I understand the critical acclaim for this a lot more than I do for Bridesmaids. FFS!

    • cranky — I have wondered and wondered about what TM must have been thinking for that creation/evolution segment. You make it too short and it has no impact, you make it too long and people get squirmy. My guess is that he tried to make it as long as he thought people might endure to try and give as much “perspective” to it.

  2. After reading the review in the New York Times, I thought that I didn’t have enough time to watch a movie about the universe, and left it at that. Now that you’ve thrown down the gauntlet—because, yes, I complain all the time about the dreck that appears in the theaters, especially during the summer—I will make a note to see this when it comes out in DVD. I’m not a fan of Terrence Malick (I rolled my eyes so much while watching The New World that my daughter said my eyeballs would fall out of their sockets if I didn’t stop), but I appreciate it when a director tries to address a theme that’s difficult or “heavy.”

    Then there was Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, which had me laughing so loud the other people in the theater kept shushing me….

    • I don’t think I know any other Malick movies — which appalls all my cinephile friends — but this was an interesting effort. It kept me engrossed because I didn’t know what was coming and I will probably watch it a second time sometime when its very quiet and I can pay a different sort of attention to it.

  3. Lol, I went to sleep about thirty minutes in. I had the volume on my TV turned to full volume but I still couldn’t hear what they were saying. My daughter asked me what it was like and all I could tell her was that everyone kept whispering.

  4. Chances are that I won’t understand it. It sounds way too deep to me – and all the whispering won’t help my understanding either.
    But Pitt looks stunning. So that tips the scales for me.

  5. I haven’t seen it – should it become available via Netflix instant, then I will check it out. Having recently purchased two books by Hitchens for my nephew, I do wonder what he thought of the film. Now that I think about it, I wonder if my nephew saw it and what he thought about it.

  6. I must be living in a bubble lately, because I hadn’t even heard of that film. Now I’m intrigued. Perhaps a viewing along with a nice cocktail in your honor is in order over the holidays. :)

    • Janie — I don’t know that it got a wide marketing push when it was released, which given its content might not be terribly surprising. Apparently, when it was screened at Cannes people both cheered and booed at the end.

  7. Is this like Koyaanisqatsi where you simultaneously fall into deep adoration while wanting to poke your eyes out with a spike? I had the energy for that stuff in college, not sure I would now. I admit though I’m intrigued. It sure is hard to find brilliant films in the regular theatres.

    • amelie — I think that’s a pretty good analogy! Some people will more than want to take the spike-in-the-eye route, but I think it’s done so well that it keeps you watching. In a poorer filmmakers hands, it would have been an epic trainwreck.

  8. Pingback: Just Watch It: Melancholia | Stevil

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