Saturday, June 25, 2011

Movie Review: The Tree of Life


Director Terrence Malick has made 5 movies in 4 decades. I've seen one of them, The New World, which for a 2+ hour movie has probably 30 minutes of dialogue. The other 1.5 hours are spent watching Colin Farrell's John Smith and Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas rolling around in the reeds gazing lovingly in each other's eyes.

I remember watching TNW during my one-week movie fest as I recuperated from Hernia surgery. For 5 days I literally did nothing but sit on the couch, ice my junk and watch movie after movie. At the time I remember thinking "Nothing happens in this movie" and "I can't look away" simultaneously. It was less like watching a feature film and more like wandering through a gallery of 1500's explorer art.

From that experience, I went to TTOL prepared. It's hard to critique the film because "plot" would be a term I would use lightly. What we do know is that the film concerns a family (Fathered by Brad Pitt and Mothered by Jessica Chastain) with three young boys in, I would guess, the 50's. We learn early on that one of those boys dies at the age of 19 -- although we never see him older than about 11, again guessing -- and the oldest of the three grows up to be Sean Penn.

If you were expecting Sean Penn to be the star of this film don't get your hopes up, he has about 10 minutes of screen time mostly spent looking out of windows and wandering through desert wasteland. This is Brad Pitt's show. We see Pitt's character morph from strapping young newlywed to loving father to a more harsh father commanding his home as a stern disciplinarian. His oldest son (the young version of Penn) grows to resent him as he enters adolescence and this tension makes up the better part of the movie although, again, the drama is mostly implied as the character's very rarely talk to each other, or at all for that matter.

Interspersed throughout the film are images of the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. A little weird, but undeniably beautiful.

And that, in essence, is the reason to watch this movie. It is not an edge-of-your-seat thriller or a head scratching whodunit. It sure ain't a comedy. What it is, is an ethereal mosaic of stunning loosely-connected images that speak to the nature of the human soul, the phenomenon of intelligent life and the evolution of both animal and nature. It is an experience, a rewarding one, and yet one that I doubt I will ever have an interest to see again. B+

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