Without that framework, 'Tree of Life' may seem random and intractable. It is a poetic meditation on loss. It unfolds as a visual symphony with five or six movements centered around a core aspect of life: death, birth, the age of awareness. The sections are separated by musical cues rather than plot twists. The threadbare plot flows from tragedy to creation, and from innocence to experience.
A family is invited to move from grief to surrender. And viewers are taken from Genesis to Revelation. How come that one predatory dinosaur looks like it's about to kill the wounded dinosaur at the river, then walks away instead? I hate to cop out here, but like so much in "Tree of Life," I don't know exactly what this is supposed to mean. I think it ties in with the nature vs. But we don't know why the dinosaur walked away. We might be witnessing the very first stirrings of a moral consciousness in nature, or it might just be that the predator decided it wasn't hungry or would rather go do something else at that moment.
Malick is big on "What did that mean? In his gentle way, he likes to baffle and provoke. Such moments are of a piece -- there's that phrase again! He never answers that question, ever. It certainly seems as though larger forces are at work, forces beyond individual human will, but neither his characters nor we will ever know that for sure.
Maybe God is punishing the schemers in "Days of Heaven" by sending a plague of locusts and burning the wheat fields and contriving horribly violent deaths for two major characters. Or it might just be a bunch of stuff that happens, and that nobody can control. Is the scene on the beach supposed to mean that Jack is dead and this is the afterlife?
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Many critics have interpreted it that way, and some have complained that for Malick, the scene is uncharacteristically trite. Maybe so, if that's what he meant by it.
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But I drew a different conclusion. I saw the presence of all those people from Jack's past -- in some cases multiple incarnations of the same characters, and a number of people we never met or did not spend much screen time with -- as a metaphorical representation of the jumble of memories and experiences inside Jack's mind, which he's trying to reconcile or sort out during the preceding two-and-a-half hours.
As he heads into that scene, he is pursuing his younger self. I also was reminded of the psychoanalytic notion that we are not -- contrary to the "nature vs. We are cruel and kind, practical and impractical, mature and childish, honest and dishonest, all at the same time. There are multiple selves within each of us, a multitude of incarnations coexisting at the same instant, and depending on circumstance, one self might momentarily step forward and eclipse the others, only to recede when circumstances change.
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I think that scene on the beach is Jack's way of saying: All these experiences, all these people who meant so much to me, all these incarnations of me, are all ME. But I could be wrong about that. Is this a religious film? If so, is the film's religious vision a Christian one? Malick was raised in Texas in the s and '50s, and as anyone who ever spent time there will tell you, Texas is very much a Southern Baptist-dominated part of the United States. There's even a closeup of an illustration of an enormous serpent in a book that evokes the serpent in the Garden of Eden -- and it's the exact same illustration that Malick used in a scene in "Days of Heaven"!
And the film has a very strong Catholic strain. He is religious, and more complex than I am suggesting here. She, not the macho sky-god of the oxymoronic 'Religious Right,' represents religion as Ought; as the impulse toward poetry rather than the prosaic. Of course, in the chauvinism of traditional religion, it is the feminine that is denigrated as too earthly, too fleshly. Yet here the feminine, precisely by refusing to denigrate the earth, also embodies its transcendence. As the film makes clear, both responses, and all shades of gray between them, are suitable to the sweep of cosmic time.
We may emphasize the poetry of creation and destruction, or the cold mechanism of it. We may soften or toughen. But the very existence of the former tendency gives birth, we might say, to religion.
But Malick's father was an Assyrian Christian, with family roots in the mideast, which surely created a lot of cognitive dissonance growing up, and might partly account for the pantheistic vision that his films depict. Malick goes looking for God, or forces beyond the immediate, everyday world, in every frame of every movie. I get the sense that he doesn't have much use for organized religion but sees all of it as a form of spiritual searching, however imprecise or flawed. Richard Brody, The New Yorker's film blogger, noticed something that would appear to validate this notion.
In a post titled "Roots and Shoots," he writes:. It might be Malick's way of saying that we are all the same, yet different, and that the intent of this movie was to show you pieces of his own life and parts of his own imagination in order to spark similar reflections in the viewer. But it might just be a lovely shot of sunflowers. What is Malick trying to tell me about life, the universe, God or anything else?
Nothing specifically. I just think he's opening up the top of his head and letting the memories and fantasies and personal anecdotes pour out, and arranging the pieces in such a way as to prompt you to remember your own life and reflect on it, and think about your own place in the cosmos, however small or large you may imagine it to be. Buy Now, Pay Later. Already a Subscriber? Log In Here. Please sign in with Facebook or Google below:. If you have an older Salon account, please enter your username and password below: sign in Forgot Password?
Chris O'Falt. Criterion technical director Lee Kline is used to working with filmmakers to polish alternate versions of their movies. This is another version. Popular on Indiewire. Intrigued, Criterion made sure the film was part of their deal with Fox. Kline said the filmmaker originally planned to use that material to develop a new storyline. Why should I have to make one film?
Traditionally, these are used to allow different versions of the same movie to be stored and played on a single disc. R-rated vs.
The Tree of Life – review | Film | The Guardian
NC, different ending, added scenes, etc. Malick thought the technology could be used for other purposes. One shot flows into another, whispered voice-over displaces dialogue, and an almost perfect domestic narrative takes shape, anchored in three extraordinarily graceful performances: Mr. Pitt, Ms.
The Pacific theater in World War II and the British colonization of North America the war movie and the western, more or less became unlikely but curiously persuasive settings for meditations on the human connection to and estrangement from the natural world. This movie stands stubbornly alone, and yet in part by virtue of its defiant peculiarity it shows a clear kinship with other eccentric, permanent works of the American imagination, in which sober consideration of life on this continent is yoked to transcendental, even prophetic ambition.
More than any other active filmmaker Mr. The definitive writings of these authors did not sit comfortably or find universal favor in their own time.
Your guide to Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life"
They can still seem ungainly, unfinished, lacking polish and perfection. And any criticism will therefore have to be provisional. And perhaps Melville should have suppressed his philosophizing impulses and written a lively tale of a whaling voyage. View all New York Times newsletters. But the imagination lives by risk, including the risk of incomprehension. Does it all make sense? I suspect, though, that sometime between now and Judgment Day it will. Birth, death, the end of the world. Running time: 2 hours 18 minutes. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser.