The Tree of Life (2011)

26 Jan

Oscar Nominations came out this week, and to no one’s surprise, Brad Pitt is all over the place.  The Tree of Life is a darling of the critics right now, and I was very excited to receive it by Netflix over the weekend.  I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I can’t really say I did, either.

Visually, this film is gorgeous.  The colors are so crisp and beautiful.  Malick’s camera is always moving which gives the film a fluid, dreamlike feel (but also makes the motion sickness prone, like myself, dizzy at times).

The film didn’t know where it was going plot-wise.  That’s not such a detriment here, because this film isn’t a story, it’s a visual depiction of ideas.  While discussing this film at bookclub tonight, a friend described it as “a visual prayer,” which I think is a keen description.

Both visually and structurally, The Tree of Life has a lot in common with Melancholia.  Admittedly, Melancholia does it better because it focuses on one idea, and carries its theme across poignantly.  The Tree of Life works through a number of different ideas, but fails to fully develop any of them, and it is hard to determine which are the most important to Malick (or even if all of them were intentional).

The Tree of Life is about:

  • Grief
  • That our emotions and our pain, although profound, are minscule in the context of the massive universe
  • The loss of innocence
  • The impulsiveness, and unexplainable nature of adolescence
  • Futility
  • Beauty alongside pain

If I wanted to sit here longer, I could probably dredge up several more ideas that The Tree of Life was about.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t truly focus on developing any one of them, so they feel smashed together and undeveloped.

The lack of significant plotline also made this fairly long (over 2 hours) hard to sit through.  This would be beautiful as a 30 to 45 minute film, but it’s just too long.

Despite the film’s flaws, the actors–particularly Brad Pitt and the three boys– were brilliant. These boys portrayed childhood and adolescence so naturally, that at times you feel like you’re watching your little brothers out the window, and not a movie.

I suspect that The Tree of Life has a solid chance of walking away with Best Picture, although The Artist is likewise being showered with praise.  The Tree of Life definitely does deserve to win on its nom for Best Cinematography, but I don’t think it has the “total package” quality appropriate for a Best Picture winner.


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