Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Tree of Life': A solitary walk in the woods

Most of us have taken a walk in the woods, alone, with only our thoughts keeping us company.

That is what Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is like. It's a meditation layered with introspection and contemplation.

Or as one viewer said after leaving the theater: "Heavy."

It's the opposite of most films that fill the multiplexes. 

While you have noise and violence in most movies these days, "The Tree of Life" offers whispers, incomparable imagery and asks, why are we here?

It's more of an impressionistic montage than a standard movie.

For fans of Malick's previous four films, "The Tree of Life" covers familiar territory. Except this time, he goes farther afield, to the cosmos actually, and deeper into melancholia, a troubling childhood, than ever before.

Given its mixed reviews and the top prize at the Cannes film festival, it wasn't surprising that the  theater in Bend was about one-quarter full on Sunday evening of opening weekend in Central Oregon.

In Connecticut, it left some movie-goers wanting their money back and forced the theater to post a "boredom" warning.

And yet, the film merits 8 out of 10 stars -- some, though, giving it 1 star -- from 149 posters, as of this writing, on the IMDb website. At Rotten Tomatoes, where it earned 3.5 tomatoes out of 5 tomatoes, 66 percent of viewers liked it.

The film may seem pretentious and bewildering to many viewers. I, too, have some of those feelings about the movie, yet I can't quite dismiss it from my mind. That is the power of a Malick movie. It lingers long after leaving the theater.

For those of us who were children in the 1950s, the film rings painfully true in its depiction of family life in Waco, Texas. The parents love their children, but with a heavy hand, of course. The father, Brad Pitt, is a conflicted man who alternates from wanting to hug or hit his kids. The oldest child, presumably Sean Penn later in life, appears disturbed by the hypocrisy he sees in his family and in his town.

There isn't much of a narrative drive to "The Tree of Life." It's a film about themes -- loss of innocence, family dynamics, biblical musings and the meaning of life.

How the family copes with the loss of one of the three children is the main unifying theme in the film. Of course, we're not really sure which child it is or why or how it happened.

Malick is unconcerned with such convention. In the end, apparently, it doesn't matter. Only the hollowness of loss remains along with, perhaps, a fleeting memory of happiness.

Malick's malaise, though, is that in reaching for a grand universal truth, he would've grasped a larger audience with just a tad more dialogue here or a bit more story there. But that is not his style and there is plenty of room in the entertainment world for a filmmaker like Malick.

"The Tree of Life" may connect most with those who have lost a loved one prematurely and how it haunts you the rest of your days.

You may randomly remember that person while driving your car, gazing out of your office window, washing the dishes or walking, lost in your thoughts, in the woods.


  1. This sounds like a movie truly worth watching...

    1. sounds like my life story.