Review: The Tree of Life

I’ve thought about this movie a lot since seeing it last Saturday. I’m still not sure how to put into words exactly how I feel about it. But love it or hate it, this film does give audiences something interesting and new to ponder. This fact, is what I’m certain of.

But before I get started, there is something else that also has me somewhat bewildered, and it has nothing to do with wheeling through space-time. It’s the varied reactions of audiences around the globe to this movie, and whether or not people are justified in being so pissed off over a film that they even demand their money back.

Honestly, if this movie upset that many people then there has to be something remarkable about it. I don’t know what that is, I think it varies from person to person. The funny thing is people are getting upset, not because of the story (it can’t be, because people are leaving 15 minutes in, and in a two and a half hour movie that’s not long enough to know where a good film is headed). They’re getting upset because the film is challenging them to view a story in an unconventional way.

This film, if you haven’t heard already, is “nonnarrative,” an art housey way of saying that is doesn’t have a beginning, middle, climax, and denouement. I understand that with movie ticket prices as high as they are today, people are bound to be upset at forking over $10 (or more) per person for a dud…but I’m not sure theaters should be held accountable for the varying tastes of movie audiences. Buyer beware, right? Plus, shouldn’t it be the goal of filmmakers to challenge audiences with new ways to view movies? Less we be bombarded with the same old formula?

On that note, I want to return to the crux of everyone’s scorn or equal admiration for this film. It’s true, there are some points that make absolutely no sense in terms of story cohesion, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. This is probably because I understood what I was getting into before I even stepped into the theater (Lesson 1 to take away: this film isn’t for everyone. Read up on it!) The film begins with a couple learning about the death of one of their sons. There’s little dialogue, just a series of beautifully edited shots, that demonstrate the family’s grief in the present, and then the film jumps back to when the children were younger. And then it jumps to space and dinosaurs. And then back to the family. And then we kind of get an ending, but it’s an unsatisfying one.

We only learn which of the children dies (there are three sons) at the very end, and even then it’s not always so clear. The film is occupied more with showing the dynamics of a father and his sometimes frightening relationship with his children. And of course, how the children are affected by their father’s inconsistent methods of parenting. We never know how the child dies (well, the adult, he’s 19 when he dies), and we never see him as a grown man. But there is an ethereal heaven-limbo scene that I suppose ties up some loose ends, but I’m sure most of it was lost on me.

I could write volumes on this movie. About how truly gorgeous it is, and my admiration for Malick’s directing style, and the cinematography. Notice how I’m only commenting on the technical aspects of the film. I believe the visual spectacle alone is worth the price of admission, but that’s just me. Ryan even goes so far as to compare this film with the latest Transformers. It’s a highly orgiastic feast for the eyes (albeit for different reasons) that’s best appreciated in the moment of viewing it. I wouldn’t try piecing together anything until you’ve left the theater. Just let the film wash over you, and sort out the details with your companion over a cup of coffee later. You’ll be less exasperated, and less likely to leave the theater in a huff.

But that’s just my humble opinion.

You can view the trailer here-and be the judge! Does it work as a standalone, or are you compelled to see how far down the rabbit hole Malick can take you?