Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Tree of Life - Malick (2011)

Now we're going on a quick run of borrowed DVD's of recent movies that I just never made it out too. Some even received votes in the BFI's most recent Sight & Sound poll!

I like the films of Terrence Malick, all the way back to Badlands (1973). This is his most recent one. Was? So critically acclaimed, it almost cracked the S&S Top 100 films 1 year in. Also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes...

The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life
dir. Terrence Malick. 2011, USA.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #102
Roger Ebert's movie review
DVD/Blu-Ray from Amazon

The Tree of Life trailer (2011)

Mr. O'Brien: Toscanini once recorded a piece sixty-five times. You know what he said when he finished? "It could be better." Think about it.

Continuing with the theme on remembrances of things past, we shift our focus to East Texas - that place where I come from. Very on-point from Tarkovsky's Mirror, as this one also jumps around a life-time, interlacing domestic scenarios and stunning visuals, with disembodied voices searching for Truth (or something completely different). Since Malick is not an architect working in a gleaming downtown Houston skyscraper, I think the adult sections again represent an alternative possible future for the boy he once was. For a Harvard philosopher from Southern Baptist land, it's understandable that Faith and Nature would ebb & flow, push & pull throughout.

Apparently there's a sharp critical divide about what to think, with a sizeable group crying snake-oil. I never got the impression that Malick was trying to elevate his own life to the cosmic scale, or to make a sales pitch for monotheistic faith salvation. Quite the opposite: I saw it as being more about perspective. So your dad was kind of an abusive jerk... In the big scheme of things (and this movie's scheme is very big indeed), what does it really matter? The only reason we care about whether one specific dinosaur might get killed and eaten - as opposed to dying sooner or later anyway - is whether we have to watch a reenactment. Even the dinocidal asteroid strike (look out!) is just a blip given the right perspective.

At its core what we have is a fairly standard coming-of-age story. Yes, yes... with some biblical overtones. "I want to know what you know, I want to see what you see" certainly implies Luciferian rebellion against authority. The loss of innocence, knowledge of good and evil of course. Which might explain the maximum-scope flashback, à la 2001: A Space Odyssey's massive flash-forward. Our old natural friends fire and water, so important in the development of life, continue to stalk the earth with a vengeance - the latter at the Barton Springs pool. It was interesting to recognize the various Austin and Houston locations (the Capitol, Transco Tower, others).

As for the end of the movie... well, I'm not too sure. We're clearly presented with a personal afterlife, and that doesn't exactly jibe with much that has come before. Maybe that's the point? My best guess would be something about how Nature can explain and reveal the actualized past, but that we all have to take the unknown future on Faith (if not a religious one). In a film looking back at an individual life, the inescapable fact of eventual death (and thereafter) is the ultimate unknowable future, at least via heavy-duty symbolism. Although again in perspective, Life itself goes on - including that tree planted at the first home, with the soil patted down by its fellow sapling/toddler. Maybe I'm being obtuse to some actual dogmatic message, but I didn't receive it.

Sometimes it's amazing, sometimes ponderous. Possibly the best film of last year, but probably still overrated. Even the movie poster ranked a in-depth analysis?

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