Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life (2011)

Genre: Drama, Sci Fi
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken
Duration: 138 min.
Rating: 8.9

The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s.  The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father.  Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.

The Tree of Life is a film written and directed by enigmatic American filmmaker Terrence Malick.  It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it was awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or.  Known for taking a long time between films, this is only his fifth feature film since 1973. 

This film is the most visually astonishing film I have seen since Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void, and in many ways is quite similar to it, both are dreamlike and deal with the questions of existence and spirituality with highly unconventional narratives.  Though they operate at opposite ends of the spectrum, Enter The Void is brutal, chaotic, and focuses on death; while The Tree of Life is beautiful, poetic, and focuses on life. 

I will be shocked if Emmanuel Lubezki does not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work here.  From start to finish the film is filled with amazingly shot scenes and it's beyond my literary abilities to adequately describe just how magnificent they are.  But not only is the camera work flawless, even the CGI visuals are breathtaking and the set decoration is immaculate.  Also the sound design is incredible bringing to life every bird chirp, wave crash, and wind gust.  The score by French composer Alexandre Desplat along with an extensive classical music soundtrack (I lost count of the song credits at the end) add the finishing touches to the total sensory immersion of the film.

What surprised and impressed me the most however was Malick's ability as a director.  To create a film with such heavily religious overtones and portray an era and lifestyle so different than my own, yet still entirely captivate this jaded and cynical viewer and even consistently provide occasion for me to see parallels with my own life in the images and events shown.  How perfectly he is able to stimulate and bring about that same sense of wonder and bewilderment that a young child sees the world with, is a talent so rare in today's cinema that it cannot be overstated.  

Where the film can be seen to falter is with the story or lack of one.  Malick's ambition (or pretension as some will undoubtedly describe it as) is so great here that the vast array of themes explored (which literally includes the history of the entire universe) doesn't leave any room for a coherent narrative.  There is no plot, only cryptic fragments in the form of childhood memories or the remnants of them are offered, and this will make for an overly challenging experience for many viewers.

If not quite the masterpiece we all hoped for, this is still an important work and a grand artistic gesture from one of the greatest living filmmakers.  Early in the film we are told that "there are two ways through life, the way of nature, and the way of grace, and we have to choose which way to follow".  Well, there are two ways to make a film, the way of profit and the way of artistry, and we all know which way Terrence Malick follows.

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)


Chris said...

One of the best and  of the year so far for me, visually dazzling yet also highly emotional. Glad I saw it on the big screen! Not sure I understood what the imagery was about, up in the air I guess like poetry

Stevee said...

Nice review, I can't wait to see it! This is actually one of the first reviews I have seen that has dared to give it a rating ;)

The Reel Foto said...

i've only heard good things about this film. :)

The Angry Lurker said...

Sounds great but will it die at the box office even with Pitt?

Jack L said...

I really can't wait to see this, it probably won't live up to it's massive hype, but it does seem like a unique film.

Great review, I really enjoyed reading this as it makes a change from the overly long rambling reviews of other bloggers I've come across.

Guy Movie Blogger said...

I was hoping you'd review this soon! I watched it a few nights ago and it really left me awestruck. I didn't like The New World, because it felt like such a sluggish film, but I was amazed at the visuals in that movie and in this film it's taken to a whole new level. I was mesmerized by what was unfolding on the screen, even if the film really seemed to go... well.. nowhere.

blahblahblahtoby said...

really nice review, i'm still unsure if i can bring myself to watch it. i'm concerned that my overarching boredom towards 90% of films wll stop me from appreciating it. i don't know where this attitude came from. it just appeared one day. but if anything your review has pushed me closer towards making the decision.

Amir said...

I love your last line. Clever. and incredibly true.

As for Lubezki, I'd love to see him win. I know the film's imagery is
largely Malick's work, but to be able to translate his vision on to the
screen isn't any cinematographers work. The one thing that works in its
favour for sure when it comes to the Oscars is that it looks pretty to
look at and we all know they care more about that than how good the
cinematography is. In a fair world, it'd have a good shot at a VFX award
too, but I can't imagine that happening.

As for your surprise at Malick's abilities as a director, I'm surprised
at you a bit now. Any director who can direct The Thin Red Line surely
is in the top tier of talented directors, so I wasn't quite surprised to
see this film, but you're dead on about this type of talent being rare
these days.

I didn't mind the arc-free storytelling so much as I did the editing. I mentioned in my own review that for me where the film falters is the surreal beach sequence. It dragged a bit there and I kept thinking it would end earlier than it did. It did have editing inconsistencies before that too, but i think it wasn't noticeable as much because of the lack of narrative.

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

Very well written review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Toby, yeah I think you really do need some patience to enjoy this.  Seems our boredom thresholds are completely opposites, but I'm glad there is some overlap from time to time.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah this was made for the big screen, I don't see how it can properly be enjoyed on TV, or worse an ipod

Bonjour Tristesse said...

It has no chance at the box office.  This is only showing in one screen in my entire city.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Stevee, I've been trying to avoid reading too many reviews because I was waiting to see it first.  But the ratings I've seen so far have generally been really high.

d_4 said...

Ah, I was told about this one just yesterday. Wasn't quite sure what to make of it then, however this makes it seem much more promising. Maybe not a perfect movie, but one I can click better with than I had anticipated. We'll see.

thevoid99 said...

Amazing as usual.  It's been weeks since I've seen the film and I still have images of that film in my head.  It is such a film that I don't think anyone will make in a hundred years.  I hope to see it again when it goes wide because it's one of these films that defies the idea of what film and art can be.  I had a personal connection to it and I'm on board for a six-hour version of the film, if it ever comes out.

Ernie Lucas said...

Looks like a good movie, I'll keep a look out for it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Well it really isn't, nor is it really a drama.  But there are some elements to it that would be traditionally considered sci-fi, like traveling back in time to see the creation of the universe.

Tim B. said...

Ok, I guess that makes sense. So, it isn't a real easy to define genre film. I guess it could be interesting to see how a sort of sounding fragmented and plot-less film comes together.

Jarek said...

adding this to my list of movies to watch

blahblahblahtoby said...

i'm somebody who has seen Birth of a Nation 3 times, this never used to be an issue. is there such a thing as having seen too many movies?

CastorTroy said...

It certainly is a movie that left me completely speechless after I saw it. It doesn't really much of a plot and as with any Malick movies since Days of Heaven, scant dialogue but this isn't a movie that seeks to entertain, it's one that is to be experienced. It's definitely not a movie you can recommend to anyone as it will bore some to tears. But for others, this could be a transformational experience. Nicely written review!

Sam Fragoso said...

What a beautiful site you run. I'm screening this tomorrow morning. 

Great review. I'll be sure to come back!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks CT.  It left me speechless as well.  Leaving the cinema, the person I went to see it with asked me what I thought, and I just couldn't formulate an answer. 

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Sam!  It would be great to hear your take on it.

FrontRoomCinema said...

Hmmm I am not sure I have the brain capacity to do this film justice.

I am intrigued, but I tend to always go for the cheese burger rather than the salad.

Great review though and you certainly have piqued my interest!!

Thanks for sharing

James Blake Ewing said...

I agree it's not quite the masterpiece I think some were hoping for, but it's still thought provoking, grand and challenging in a way that very few films are. One I look forward to seeing again and again in the coming years.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

 It really is a powerful film.  Thanks for stopping by Christian.

Christianperdomo2011 said...

Great film!, an extremely interesting theme. That movie really left me thinking.

FilmMasterT said...

Fantastic review! I am still waiting for this to come into our cinemas, IF it does.

Michael Parent said...

Excellent review Bonjour Tristesse! I agree on many aspects of the film with you! But as you stated it's not a masterpiece but this is a film filled with grace and nature. If you're interested I've written my review of The Tree of Life... here's the link:

Tim B. said...

I'm confused on what actually makes this Sci Fi?

Fred said...

Absolute dribble. Total wank. You will be bored. Waste of time. Only an ostrich with its head up its ass would like this crap.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I obviously disagree, but thanks for sharing your opinion Fred.

Unknown said...

I also think the movie was terrible, but that is just my opinion.

To me, it had no plot, no meaning and that is why I didnt like it.
Half of the movie was only videos of natural disasters (or making the life on earth)
I could e easily watched national geographic...

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