Following is a guide for you to take along when seeing Terrence Malick's star laden new film, "The Tree of Life."
The first sentence I wrote after walking out of the auditorium that screened "The Tree of Life," was: "It's been a long time since I had an epiphany."
I don't want to sound overboard here, but that's pretty much how I felt as the film made its quiet conclusion of jubilation with all the cast walking together in a sun-bright surf.
Following decades of rumination on "The Tree of Life," Malick has crafted another realistic, but dreamlike film. It seems to be his most personal, and one that made me flash on my own past, as it relates to the same stuff most everybody goes through, growing up... and living a life.
Much of the speech is monologue, whispered, or spoken sotto voce as one would, alone, in prayer or supplication. Some of the dialogue has actually been attenuated down on the soundtrack, purposely, with, either, natural sound or beautiful, appropriate music (some familiar) welling up in the film's sonic foreground. It gives the picture what could be called, a sonically-produced poetic distance.
It's Malick way of trying to get you back on his poetry frequency... these effective shenanigans. Go with them---or you'll get lost.
Hopefully, without going overboard, again: I saw shots of space and heavenly bodies out in space, as well as natural land, sea and skyscapes on or near Earth that came close to taking my breath. Some sequences in "The Tree of Life" update visions first put to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Moreover, Malick put me in a mood much like I felt after first seeing the Kubrick classic, over 30 years ago.
(Lunching with an elderly Keir Dullea will do that.)
I hasten to add: there are no rocket ships, space suits or HAL 9000s in "The Tree of Life." And, except for a surprising CGI scene of ancient creatures that appear, briefly, in a gentle river setting, everything in "The Tree of Life" looks about as real and natural as real, natural gets.
The family life of the O'Briens is chronicled with Malick's broad brush. It fluctuates from the mundane simplicity of routine life of the mid-Fifties in Waco , Texas to the present, where Jack, now an adult, is confronted with contemporary living in an urban setting of technological success not yet determined whether or not it will be coupled with progress. That's what Sean Penn's character wears on his face throughout the film.
Brad Pitt is well-grounded and really genuine as the father, Mr. O'Brien. Sean Penn, as Jack, is in deep anguish as the grown up, eldest son of O'Brien and his wife (and the mother), played exquisitely by newcomer, Jessica Chastain, a native Sacramentan seen earlier in the film, "Jolene". A boy named Hunter McCracken gives quite a sensitive turn as young Jack.
Some might call "The Tree of Life" pretentious. I agree, like the Bible, it is pretentious, but I liked the film. Many of those labeling it pretentious are probably about to say, next, that they didn't like "The Tree of Life" very much, if at all.
My personal sense of what this serious, reverential film attempts... is to reach past human conflict and dissension in modern life, and grasp at something common to all, whether or not they believe in a supreme being... or, on the other hand, admit to not knowing which might be the case.
If one wishes to accuse Terrence Malick of being self-absorbed for taking on such a task over such a long period of time, I say, right on, Terry! And, thank you for knocking yourself out, man.
Good artists are always doing that.
5/27 Tulsa World story:
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