Film fanatics everywhere have been waiting a long time for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life to come to theaters. The transcending tale of life and death, the creation of the universe, and spirituality sounds like an art house epic, but is it? The film already has early Oscar buzz surrounding Brad Pitt’s performance and won Cannes’ Palme d’Or so what is not to love? Film fans everywhere should be screaming it’s praise’s, after all this is the one true film of an abysmal summer. The film sits with a whopping score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, and by this evidence alone you should go see it right? I say no!
The Tree of Life is a beautiful piece of cinematography that pushes the boundaries of film and the performances are outstanding! The problem is the substance; it just never made me feel anything. Call me cold and heartless and tell me my lack of beliefs are clouding my judgment, go for it. I’m just not the type of person that worries about the thoughts of the majority before I reach an opinion. I understood the film completely and thought it had an interesting insight into the vast meaning of life, I just don’t think it works as a film. The goal of a film with this kind of magnitude should be to force you to face your own existence or just remotely think about it. I sat in the theater ready to be moved and I never was. The thrill of the vast beauty of the film was over within the first thirty minutes and from then on I was left waiting for the generic fade to black and credits that plague all these films. I wish they would place stark white lettering at the end that says “THINK ABOUT IT!” so I could at least enjoy a chuckle after witnessing something so pretentious.
Being pretentious is where this film lives, it needs that level of the unknown and all knowing to leave people with that “You just didn’t get it” escape clause or instill that fear of ridicule into the “know it all” film buff to say that they didn’t enjoy it. In that same fashion it serves that purpose for me and my ridicule of the film so maybe that’s where it’s brilliant in its design.
The truth is the film is just a beautiful mess with little to no narrative and more of an implied narrative. The moments of the film where we do spend time with Jack and his family are enjoyable and end up being the only thing saving the film from being one step away from a James Earl Jones narrated documentary. The interaction between the children and their over bearing father is engaging, but in the same way nothing we haven’t seen before. As Jack grows older he finds himself alone in an office building remembering the times of his youth and ultimately reconciling with the abusive relationship of his father. Throw in flashes of space, an over-bearing auditory dialog about god, and a visual dialog about evolution and you have The Tree of Life.
In a sense you could watch this film on mute and come to the same conclusions, and no, that doesn’t say anything about its brilliance or its statement about the life of Jack or existence as a whole. It purely states that the film is the equivalent of splatter painting in the way that until someone says its art it’s just paint on a wall. What you need to decide is if you see paint or if you see the meaning of life. All I suggest is you decide for yourself as the thoughts of this subject have been plagued with a lack of self thought to the point where we can’t see the truth even if it is right before our eyes. In that same right maybe drugs would help, everything’s better with drugs, right? Though that could just be the next cop out that plagues this film.
In short, yes the film is beautiful and yes Brad Pitt acted the hell out of it, but that’s not enough. That’s just not the meaning of film to me and on the other hand it may be for you, but that’s the magic of film. A medium that allows you to decide for yourself, it’s also in the same way the thing that makes life great. The thing that we so easily fall into is a judgement of these small choices and the decisions to chain ourselves to brands, logos, and stereotypes to the point that they become the definition of us rather than who we really are. We do this to a point that we worry about the opinions of others and wait for them to be revealed before we reach our own conclusion, but hey that’s life and without a good director it never gets higher than a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.
By Ryan Davis