What the hell did I just watch…?
Back in film school, in my 16mm production class, one of our projects was to do a self-portrait film. I took it upon myself to make a two and a half-minute mishmash of nonsense. I took a paper mache model I built for a crappy 101 art class I was taking at the time, and just filmed it in weird locations, made everything look as artsy as possible, and combined it with a slew of sound effects that I recorded that had NOTHING to do with imagery (frying an egg, opening a door, moving some sand, etc.) Just random images with random noise, none of it had any significance to myself, or basically anything. I did this with the intent that I could bring it to class, not say anything, and everyone would think it’s some sort of powerful symbolic statement. I couldn’t have been more right. I got oddly in-depth analysis from my classmates, a big thumbs up from my professor, and an easy A. It was crazy. I learned a big lesson by doing that project. Basically, if you make something with a lot of unexplainable random nonsense, people will think you’re an artistic genius. (For the record, the rest of my film school work was actually done with creativity and hard work, but I had to do that self-portrait film to prove a point about film analysis… …to myself, I guess?)
Anyway, The Tree of Life almost immediately reminded me of that project as I was watching it. I can’t say for sure the intent of Terrence Malick, I’m actually leaning towards he actually did have some vision, and the images he used actually made sense to him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the other way. Just a giant hack job, filled with nonsensical explosions of color, begging for unwarranted analysis. I can imagine what editing this film was like:
Malick: OK great, dinner conversation scene, good good, alright CUT TO CARNIVAL SHOTS.
Editor: Wait, what?
Malick: Yeah Carnival shots, then kid in the attic, the same kid 8 years later walking down the street at night, OK OK, now BOOM dandelions, LOTS of dandelions.
Editor: Oh, well we were doing the dinner sce- Ya know what, I think I understand, come back tomorrow morning Mr. Malick. I’ll handle this.
Malick: Good, don’t forget the dinosaurs.
(editor puts the footage in two and a half hours of random order, writes TREE OF LIFE really big in sharpie)
I don’t care if I get criticized for not wanting to do any film analysis on Tree of Life, it’s all just too obvious for that. That’d be letting Tree of Life win. I like when you can read deeper into movies for added value, but I don’t like it when you CAN’T watch it without being FORCED into reading into it.
Basically the movie is a below average, fraction of a story told in an unconventional way. That fraction of a story is SURROUNDED by gratuitous footage. And it is a story that’s definitely not strong enough to sustain an audience without the additional mayhem around it. Restraint is a concept that was nowhere near this production. So many long (albeit pretty looking) shots that, in my opinion, don’t make that much sense. Maybe I didn’t get it? I probably don’t, actually. I know, though, that I didn’t like it. And it was kind of boring.
All the best moments came from tension caused by Brad Pitt’s character being an asshole. Which was usually followed by three minutes of shots of people walking down streets. Cue random voiceover. Go back to the shred of a story that’s in the film for two minutes. Closeups of flowers. Space explosion. Brad Pitt reading newspaper. Dinosaurs. Horrible, unsatisfying ending. Let’s call it a day.
Don’t even get me started on Sean Penn’s character. Why was he even in this movie? I can’t believe he gets billing over Jessica Chastain. He has one line of dialogue in the whole film!! I can see why people would like this film, though. It does have ambition, I’ll give it that. Ultimately, the ambition ends up killing anything that resembles a functional movie. The cinematography is fantastic, too, it’s well shot. But yeah… I did not like The Tree of Life. But I liked it better than Sucker Punch.
3.5 out of 10