What have you done to my fragile little mind, Mr. Malick?! Life, The Universe, and Everything, in just over two hours of the most beautiful cinema I have ever seen, and all I’m wondering is when I can see it again.
I was nervous for tonight. For all the chatter and buzz I’d heard, I only read through one review [a preview, really] in its entirety, from The Guardian’s David Thomson, and that last paragraph has remained burned in my mind…
What can one say about The Tree of Life? Just that for nearly 40 years it has been apparent that Malick might make a movie that could alter our understanding of what cinema should be. This may be it.
No, it hasn’t altered my understanding of what cinema should be, but Malick’s vision and execution have to be admired. Oh, and if you’re one of those that didn’t like it [and I know there are a great many that didn’t], save yourself from the short love letter that follows.
I’m not one to normally explain the plot, but just to gain some semblance of understanding myself, here goes… The Tree of Life is mostly told from Jack’s [Hunter McCracken, stealing the show as a younger version, and Sean Penn, in later life] perspective, and by perspective, I mean his memory. This is probably why, @jymmysim, I don’t think I could call it a non-linear narrative. Jack’s thoughts and memories are scattered, always thinking of his lost brother, but triggered by the tree he sees planted in the concrete jungle he helps create, we delve into his journey on this Earth from an earlier, happier time to his coming of age and inner conflict, finally to an Afterlife, where his mother can let go of his brother, her son.
Malick got me thinking about why exactly we’re all here, and what we all mean in the scheme of things with his dialogue-free, visually stunning sequence detailing the creation of the universe. Twenty odd minutes of wondrous life being created, juxtaposing simply a letter and a moment of grief shared between the O’Brien’s to signify the loss of one life; cruel, violent, beautiful Nature.
The short monologue by Chastain about Nature and Grace being two opposing philosophies directly before the sequence above then feeds into the main chunk of the story, with Nature and Grace seemingly embodying Mr and Mrs O’Brien respectively, and Jack, growing up, witnessing both sides, caught in the middle, struggling between the two.
Father. Mother. Always you wrestle inside me
On a sidenote, the promotional site, Two Ways Through Life, once entered, and filled with great little clips from the film, gives you a choice of the father’s way, or the mother’s way.
Hunter McCracken did steal the show, portraying the confusion and angst of a boy growing up in this conflicted household, but Brad Pitt, a tough disciplinarian through and through, dejected by what little he has accomplished, and an angelic, nurturing Jessica Chastain, played a fantastic couple. Sean Penn just… looked dazed and depressed the whole way through, but did manage to crack a smile at the end.
As shallow as it sounds, to me, what stood out first and foremost was the visual imagery. Between Malick’s vision and Emmanuel Lubezki’s eye, every frame is a painting that I’d like to surround myself in. HOW DO YOU SEE THINGS SO BEAUTIFULLY, Lubezki? I said it on Twitter, but who will be crazy enough to deny this man an Oscar? I sat in wonderment, on the edge of my seat, seeing shot after shot looking to the skies above, flowing seamlessly into the glass and concrete suburbia, and back again, only to be followed by the amazing creation sequence, and a 1950s neighbourhood in Waco, Texas, all set to Alexandre Desplat’s rousing score.
Look, you’ll either hate it or fall head over heels in love with it, or ok, you might just fall somewhere in between. Do go see it though, for variety’s sake, if anything. I certainly can’t wait to see it again!