The Tree Of Life (2011)
Where did you come from?
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Let’s check out a tree of previews first.
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE–I really want to see this one. It’s the true story (sort of) of a guy who was chosen to be Uday Hussein’s double and ended up going down a rabbit hole of violence and excess. It looks pretty awesome and I’m all over it.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN–Not quite as sure about this one. Wayne Wang returns to his Joy Luck Club roots and does another movie about Asian women. I love Asian women and Asian films, but I still haven’t seen Joy Luck Club. It just doesn’t really interest me. Maybe I’ll check it out someday…when I’m 50.
THE DEBT–Three people were sent in to find one of the most notorious Nazis. They’re still living with the problems of that mission 40 years later. Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson…a great cast headed up by John Madden. I’m for it!
Ok. Let’s move on.
Terrence Malick is just about the only American filmmakers whose films are like poetry. They’re completely inaccessible to some, but those of us who like them think that they’re beautiful to behold and can’t wait for him to release a new one. When I heard that our own Texas Tarkovsky* was making a new film basically in my back yard, I knew that I had to see it as soon as it came out.
(*Yes, I know was born in Illinois, but he basically grew up in Austin. That counts.)
The Tree Of Life is about a family in the 50s. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is a tough man. He’s trying to make his sons (especially Jack) tough, too. He teaches them how to fight and weed the garden. He yells at them if they talk without being talked to first. He’s a loving father, but a bit tougher than he probably needs to be.
Their mother (Jessica Chastain, also in The Debt) is exactly the opposite. She’s a free spirit and wants the boys to be artistic and free. O’Brien and his wife are constantly at odds with each other on how to raise their three boys.
Meanwhile, we also get a bit of Jack’s older self (Sean Penn), working in Dallas and dealing with his past while living his corporate life.
This is seriously the entire story of this over two hour movie. This story is told, as are most of Malick’s films, in images and voice overs. At one point near the beginning we get a brief overview of how life began on Earth, including celestial bodies and CGI dinosaurs. All of this seems very off the wall and incongruous, but it actually makes perfect sense once you’ve finished the movie. One shot of a dinosaur pushing another dinosaur’s head into the ground (not killing it, just putting it down) works once you see how O’Brien treats his children.
If you wish to make a Terrence Malick film, you must first create the universe.
Of course, the film is pure poetry…maybe even a symphony, complete with overtures and themes. But you can also see it as a political statement. With all of the Republicans and Tea Partiers talking about how great it would be to go back to 50s values, Malick is doing his best to show us how the 50s were not as nice or innocent as these people “remember” them. There was domestic violence that was just accepted. Even if O’Brien never beat his children or wife, he still treated them like second-class citizens and they could do nothing about it. They had no rights. (In one scene, he treats his wife like a dog, basically holding her down until she stopped trying to fight him. This was not a sexual thing, but it was still fairly violent.)
However you read the film, it is a beautiful film. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone. In fact, I would say that this might be Malick’s most divisive film. You’re either going to think it’s brilliant or a pretentious, impenetrable piece of shit. Honestly, I can see both sides of that argument.