Saturday, June 25, 2011

Box Office Review - The Tree of Life

In April of 2009 I made a list of my most anticipated films of the year. The Tree of Life was on that list. Now two years later it has finally been released, and it exceeded my expectations in every way.

I have been a Terrence Malick fan since I saw The New World on its release in 2005. I would eventually watch and love Badlands, and Days of Heaven, but it took me a long time to get through all of The Thin Red Line. Not because I wasn't interested in the film, but because I would get entranced by the first fifteen, twenty minutes. That film starts by showing members of the US army men AWOL hiding out with a group of natives in the South Pacific. It is poetic, beautifully shot, and features some incredible music. I would get so wrapped up in those scenes that once the movie really gets going I would just re-start the movie and watch the opening again. As a result, it took me a few tries before I watched the entire movie. From what I heard about The Tree of Life, I assumed that it would be the equivalent of the opening of The Thin Red Line, only for the entire movie. I couldn't have been more right.

Unlike The Thin Red Line's opening, The Tree of Life tackles a massive space of time rather than a period of a few months. This could be disconcerting for some people, but for a Terrence Malick fan like myself, it is exactly what I wanted. The film starts by jumping around from the beginning of time, to the very end. This might seem confusing at first, but Malick is such a master filmmaker, that it is better to just trust in his vision rather than try to make sense of everything.

The most coherent narrative in the film is the story of Jack when he is a boy. Through the gorgeous cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki we see Jack's relationship with the world. These scenes are crafted by Malick so that they elicit a emotional response in the viewer. Even though my childhood was far different from what is portrayed in the film, I found myself thinking about significant events that affected me when I was a kid.

This is why the film is such an impressive piece of cinema. Not only is it a beautiful made and well acted film, it also has the ability of connecting with each individual viewer on a personal level. If you really give yourself over to the film it is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Putting the emotionally elements aside, the film is also a pure visual spectacle. As the film tackles the creation of the earth and universe as well as the afterlife, there is a lot visually to experience. Effects master Douglass Trumbull who hasn't done effects work since Blade Runner in 1982, was brought in to handle the creation of the universe. This is the guy who worked on Kubrick's 2001, so the space scenes are as amazing as that film. The decision was made to do these effects practically and this decision paid off. The effects are astonishing.

You would think that having a twenty minute scene about the creation of the universe in a film about a boys coming of age wouldn't work. You would probably be right if the film was handle by someone other than Terrence Malick. Every aspect of the film works, and contributes to the success of the film.

There were about ten walkouts during the screening this afternoon and I struggle to see why. Yes the film takes it time, but the film does not feel like it is two plus hours long. As for comments that the film is hard to follow and incoherent, I wholeheartedly disagree. Go into the theater ready to do some work and you will see a film that is thoughtful and meticulously crafted. I have never seen a film like The Tree of Life and there is a good chance I never will again. It is truly an original film, and deserves a place among the greatest films ever made. The movie contains so many elements that it demands multiple watches. I look forward to another theater experience and multiple home viewings. Research the film, and if you think its for you, go and see it.

A Gold Banana

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