THE TREE OF LIFE [2011] review

September 25, 2011 · Print This Article

Watching THE TREE OF LIFE is like falling into a series of masterly crafted photographs.  The camera is in constant motion, often at low angles with foreground objects or at claustrophobically tight crops.  No doubt this movie also sets the record for number of shots directly into the sun.  TREE OF LIFE is so unusual it is almost hard to call it a feature length motion picture or a movie of any kind, which kind of makes it criticism proof, since there is no real way to categorize it.  Is it worth seeing?  For Terrence Malick completionists only I think.

When I mentioned TREE OF LIFE was unusual, I mean it is just weird and beyond surreal.  There is some talking flame that comes and goes, then there is a 15-minute montage of various scenes from the cosmos, of water and then somehow dinosaurs show up, and we get a glimpse of a 1950s Brad Pitt and a seemingly modern day Sean Penn staring at some great architecture.  At this point you start to ask yourself, am I really going to watch this?  Do I trust Malick enough?  Will this every turn into something even resembling an actual movie?

The cosmos and nature montage is incredibly beautiful, and I could have gone on just watching that, though I would want to know ahead of time I would not be seeing a narrative movie, but some visual Malick cinema poetry.

However, I guess TREE OF LIFE almost does become a movie, but as it opened, the camera is constantly, and I mean constantly, in motion.  Malick is always cutting to very creative camera angles, often from below, but one I remember in particular starting from the top of a tree looking down through the branches.  Others are set just a few inches above a seashore.

Watching TREE OF LIFE is like floating down a stream.  The movie has no pause, save for its numerous blackout fades.  I have never seen any pacing like it before.  In that way the movie is also dreamlike, as it seems to lack any linear passing of time.

The main story you could say is about Pitt’s oldest son, who gets the tough love treatment, and does not take to it well as his brow becomes increasingly slanted and menacing looking.

If I did not know the running time of the movie ahead of time and knew by the clock it should be ending fairly soon, I am sure otherwise the ending would seemed totally random.  How can you critique a movie so random, so non-linear, so flowing, so well crafted?

My other Malick review:  THE NEW WORLD

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