The Tree Of Life
Directed By Terrence Malick
Slow, metaphorical, and symbolic, The Tree Of Life is a decidedly difficult film to rate -- being one of only a handful of movies presented in such a manner. Much like The Thin Red Line or The New World, there seems to be a split somewhere between story and presentation, almost as if two separate movies had been made, but due to their dependent nature, found themselves glued together in post-production.
Director Terrence Malick sacrifices structure and continuity for heavy symbolism, making this movie both difficult and rewarding. The movie's central focus is on a 1950s Texas family -- a generic, universal family that almost anyone could relate to in one way or another. This makes up the primary bulk of the picture, indisputably providing the strongest material in the film.
The central focus may be on the family, but that leaves at least 45 minutes to an hour for Malick to flex his ego with deep-space shots accompanied by voice-over narration asking rhetorical, existential questions (a common trait in Malick's work that I have never much appreciated), which can't help but to give off the impression that he is trying too hard to be artistic: If art doesn't come naturally, it shouldn't be forced in this obvious and clownish sort of way.
Brad Pitt's domineering father figure is an uncharacteristically dark performance for the actor -- who, with a few exceptions, rarely takes roles outside of mainstream, big-budget productions. His performance is the strongest of the cast, portraying a character as deep and layered as any other in the movie -- a title shared only with the young and deeply-troubled Jack.
We witness Malick's vision of the creation of the universe, and watch as he briefly ventures into the Triassic period, giving us impressive, but ultimately irrelevant glimpses of dinosaur footage. These moments in the picture allow us to perceive his visionary scope, but his inability to tie them in with the rest of the movie proves his lack of cohesive talent. For instance, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick manages to let his focus shift at an even pace, providing a far less centralized vision of his enormous subject. Malick lingers for far too long for his epic to feel as universal as I'm sure it was intended. Normally I would consider it unfair to compare a new release to a classic of that stature, but seeing as how strongly Malick was attempting to recreate (in his own manner) "2001", I feel the comparison is justified.
Though it may be tedious at times due to its listless nature, when the movie comes into focus, it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. In fact, it's hard to take your eyes off the screen, period. There is a fantastically superficial appeal to a movie like this. It feels less like a movie you would watch on a screen, and more like something you might see hanging on the wall of a museum. Even if not for anything else, Malick must be praised for his grand visual style, which is at full-force here. The epic scope of this picture is bound to make you feel as small as a drop of water in the ocean.
Emmanuel Lubezki (the genius behind the camerawork in Children Of Men) proves himself yet again to be one of, if not the very best cinematographer working today. Within the first five minutes I had already witnessed some of the most creative shots I'd ever seen, and it would only become more and more astounding as it progressed. Quite possibly the only guarantee for the Oscars so far this year, it would be a genuine surprise to see someone else walk away with the "Best Cinematography" Oscar this awards season.
Despite its flaws, there is much to savor in Terrence Malick's latest creation. Upon leaving the theater, unlike the rest of the audience, I was impressed -- left with a deep impression, eager for a chance to experience it all over again.