The Tree of Life (2011)
Format: Theatrical Release
Director: Terrence Malick
Life is a mysterious place. We start to see and understand it only through the memories we collect over our lifetime, no matter how short or long our stay ends up being. The way we see this world and the way we react to it is defined by our own instinct, our nature, as well as the effects of the stimuli we faced, or the way that we have been nurtured. The Tree of Life is about all of these things. It's a languid, highly emotional representation of the very essence of the human experience even though the interpretation of that gets a bit too fantastical at times.
The film convey the universality of its meaning by focusing on a family of 5: A young couple and their 3 sons, though the focal point is mostly dominated by the eldest son. We get to spy on their most private activities, as individuals, or as a family. We get to learn the dynamics between the couple and the conflicting ways of their parenthood and how that impacts the growth of their children. There are many significant moments yet there are also many insignificant ones and both of those things can easily be interchangeable of course. The movie is mostly narrated via the voice-overs of the characters, which is of course Malick's favorite cinematic practice. These voice-overs are very revealing and it's easy to associate yourself with them because you do it all the time in your life. They are mostly random ramblings but that only makes the characters' thoughts feel more genuine.
Since the movie is mostly filled with voice-overs, the camera becomes free to move around to capture the scenes. The cinematography is gorgeous throughout and there are some truly remarkable nature footage to be found here. Sometimes, it feels like you are watching a National Geographic Specials because the movie likes to wander away from the family for lengthy periods of time. This is not a problem for the most part and it only becomes highly damaging when Malick attempted to capture imaginary moments that represent the world's scientific origins and its religious-based projection. These sections just feel out of place and since it is apparent that they bear a major significance to the movie by framing the collective experiences of the film's family unit, they make the movie inconsistent and staged when it should remain entirely organic in its flow.
The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick at his most obtuse. There are sparks of brilliance in the characters' nonchalant dialogues and their philosophical ramblings but in the end, the movie as a whole is a bit of a frustrating experience. It's hauntingly poetic and hypnotic when it works but it feels like you caught something in your eyes that you need to wash out when it stumbles. My spouse fell asleep for about 30% of the movie and the only other person watching it in the very empty theater walked out mid-way through so it also takes some degree of patience to endure this film. With that being said, The Tree of Life is still enjoyable but Malick needs to be more rooted to reality to give the movie the validity it craves for.
RATING: 3 out of 5