Tuesday, May 31, 2011


2011 has essentially become 2010’s rival as far as movies are concerned. If you didn’t like last year’s ‘Inception’, this year we had ‘Source Code’. If you weren’t a fan of 2010’s ‘Kickass’, 2011 brought us ‘Super’. And if you couldn’t get in to ‘Enter the Void’ (which was intense and had its good moments, but could’ve been 45 minutes to an hour shorter) this year we have Terrance Mallick’s highly anticipated ‘Tree Of Life’, which apparently drew boos from the Cannes audience while still winning best picture at the same time (Mallick now joins an exclusive group of directors like David Lynch & David Cronenberg who have had their films booed and rewarded at the very same festival). After watching ‘Tree Of Life’ (for the 2nd time now) the boos & praise makes so much sense. I know that statement sounds strange but that’s how unique the film is. It’s a masterpiece and a disaster at the same time. Its closer to Mallick's recent style ('Thin Red Line' & 'The New World') so there's quite a bit of poetic surreality. Some scenes will completely blow you away even if you go in to this movie wanting to not like it, some scenes will completely floor you and stay in your head for a very long time. But at the same time, parts of this movie comes off like a parody of “Art” cinema (the loud dramatic opera music, lingering shots of the beach, endless scenes of Sean Penn wandering in the desert, etc).

On one level, you have a film about a man (Sean Penn) still struggling with the death of his brother (there's also a lot of unresolved issues with his father). His father (played by Brad Pitt) is the typical old-school American father with stern rules & tough love (a lot of folks really misunderstand this character. Even though he is tough, he also shows plenty of love as far as I'm concerned). His mother (played by Jessica Chastain) is an overly caring, somewhat spiritual sweet housewife.

On another level, you have a director (Terrance Mallick) trying to make his version of both; Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’. At random moments in the film there are scenes of Dinosaurs, cosmic universes and nature. Then he brings us back to modern day where Sean Penn is wandering around aimlessly contemplating life. This film is the epitome of "stream of consciousness" with its amazing (although sometimes disorienting) cinematography. The majority of ‘Tree Of Life’ takes place in \flashbacks of Penn’s childhood where Brad Pitt gives his best performance since ’12 Monkeys’. Honestly, anyone who hates on Pitt’s performance in ‘Tree Of Life’ because he’s a big “Hollywood actor” or whatever is just hating for the sake of hating. He's so good in this, and gives a convincing performance as the typical, proud, tough father. 

But there’s also a flipside. Anyone who’s a diehard Terrance Mallick fan (like me), that’s used to his signature whispery/poetic style of film making (found in his classic films like ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Days Of Heaven’) HAS to admit to themselves that this movie has some serious flaws. There are so many arthouse cliché’s (like the ending which shows all of the cast members roaming around aimlessly and hugging each other on a beach), that you’ll roll your eyes more than once.

The CGI Dinosaurs from 'Tree Of Life' (In all honesty, they kind of looked like SYFY channel dinosaurs. I thought that with the technology of today, Mallick could've done a better job).

I feel Kubrick's use of prehistoric elements worked better because they were used at the beginning of the film, which transitioned a lot better in to the rest of the story which took place in the future. In 'Tree Of Life', all of the pre-historic elements and whatnot where kind of dropped in on us right in the middle of the story, which could feel a little awkward to some people.

As far as themes and symbolisms go, there’s an obvious struggle between the idea of religion (god, Christianity, spiritualism) and science within Malick. I can’t say for sure but Terrance Mallick must have been going through some serious internal issues and felt he needed to get it all out of system. There are elements of this film that are semi-autobiographical, which is why I’m certain that Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’, which is also a mixture of autobiographical & surreal elements, played a major role in the development of this film (in fact there’s a quick scene in ‘Tree Of Life’ where Sean Penn’s mother randomly starts floating in the air, which is clearly a borrowed scene from ‘The Mirror’).

Various Images from 'Tree Of Life'

For those of you who have seen 'Tree Of Life' but haven't seen 'The Mirror', one of the most memorable scenes from both films involve the mother character floating in the air. Whether Mallick meant to draw inspiration from 'Tarkovsky' or not, there are still many similarities...

With all of the flaws that this film has, it’s still a must see. I've had the pleasure of seeing this in two different countries (France and America), and although the French audience was much more vocal as to how they felt about 'Tree Of Life', there were still just as many walkouts as there were people applauding or tearing up by the end.


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