Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Tree of Life

By s. Saturday, October 15, 2011 , , , , ,
(139 min, 2011)
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain  

Come, watch the tree grow!

“I didn't at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I've ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."
- Sean Penn

Watching “Tree of life”, Terence Mallick's recent movie and the winner of this year Palme d'Or reminded me of the scene from “Clerks 2” where Randall criticizes “Lord of the rings “and states this movie was only about bunch of people walking. Oh, how I love to hear his thoughts on this film. Ambitious and unique, “The tree of life” is also insufferable and dull. It's like walking into art gallery – beautiful images, various pictures, stunning colors. Except in the gallery you have freedom – you can go around as you please, chose directions. Watching this movie is like being in the car with Terrence Mallick and he is driving. The only way out is jumping out and had I seen this movie in theaters, I'd jump out of the cinema after about 40 minutes.

I'm not a fan of Mallick's films, the only one I enjoy is “Thin red line”. But even with boring mess like “The new world”. Mallick's films always had plot and richly painted characters. “Tree of life” lacks both. One can't disagree with Penn – the longer the movie lasts, the more it unravels. I couldn't care less about the people on screen. Mallick yet again spends so much time showing nature, but the movie is almost offensive in praising it – it is not worthy of even talking about it. Nature is full of life, fascinating, always changing, restless. “Tree of life” is the opposite of that – it's the movie so boring I'd recommend watching it to my worst enemy.

A lot has been said about the scene where the beginning of universe was shown. It is an impressive sequence but Mallick manages to destroy this one as well by what he always does – making it unbearably long. The movie's best scene comes from this part, though, the moment when one dinosaur spares the life of the other. Is it referenced later on in the movie when we see the life of the family? No. Because “Tree of life” is a mess without method.

Two years ago “A single man” showed what “Tree of life” aspires to show and even used the same technique – shots of the world around the characters. It showed poignantly, how life consists of all the little elements, that for some reason later on stay in our memory. “A single man” succeed because that message was hidden in the background – the most important part of the movie was the main character and his life. In “Tree of life” characters are mostly irrelevant, because Mallick, I think, wanted to make a movie where life itself is a protagonist. But ironically, why waste more than 2 hours of your life watching it if you could just, quite simply, live?

The worst crime is that the actors are so underused. The only person who gives strong performance is Brad Pitt and along with beautiful cinematography he is the only asset of the movie. Jassica Chastain, who gave such lovely and lively performance in “The Help” could have been replaced with any actress who would, without make up, au naturel, preach soapy revelations. Sean Penn just wanders around. No wonder, after all, like me, he was confused.

I'm very amused when I read discussions about this film, where avid fans are outraged and act like every one who disliked the film insulted life itself. The best come backs are the ones stating that if you don't like “Tree of life” you must love “Transformers”, the the movie is too profound for you to get and that you simply didn't understand it. They fail to see that Mallick had to be defeated by his own ambitions – showing 140 minutes of beautiful footage without substance is not life, life is complex - it's not just pretty, it's also ugly and one shot of burning house won't change the fact that direction chosen by director was wrong. Also life is not just images. It's mostly emotions and feelings. Few movies managed to capture emotions, the passion, love, anger, hatred. “Tree of life” is not one of these movies. Ironically though, it manages to make us appreciate life – after 140 minutes of boredom everything will seem fascinating to you. I guarantee it.

I don't know who Mallick thinks he is. I don't need him or his movie to appreciate nature, life, things around me. Watching “Tree of life” will not make anyone appreciate them more, maybe only on superficial level. Art imitating life will never be better than life itself and no one will convince me that it's otherwise. Nor that this is, in any way, a great film.



  1. Best review of tree of life ever. This movie was more of an insult to the intellectual movie-going community than any michael bay film!

  2. I'm with you on this one. The beach scene at the end made me cringe. Apart from looking good, this really has no reason for me to like it. Same goes for Melancholia in my opinion. In fact that was worse.

    1. I liked Melancholia but ToL simply had no plot, or at least I failed to see one existing there :)

  3. I agree with most of this. I didn't particularly care for it because it wasn't so much a movie as a collection of pretty images with backing music. It's not a film I would ever recommend to others.

    1. Exactly, I don't know anyone whose type of movie that would be, it's just too odd and messy for anyone's taste which is why I find it so odd, it's so praised.

  4. Disagree about emotions in the film, I was very moved, and took me back to childhood again.

    True enough, you don't need Malick's movie to appreciate nature. I was reminded about the beauty of nature we sometimes take for granted.

    I will add a quote from your piece to my Tree of life review, interesting points you make!