“the tree of life” film review

It was suggested I do a video review for this film, but I’ve got a pile of videos that need to be processed, edited, and eventually posted and/or burned onto DVDs or what have you. However, I may revisit this film and do a film reflection, similar to my look back on LOST. My experience before, during, and after the film are definitely noteworthy, and that deserves it’s own designated post, which might be easier if I do a video post.

But for now, let’s talk about the film itself. Most of the people I know aren’t that familiar with this movie, let alone heard of it. And if they did, they, along with most of the film industry, knew very little about it plot-wise. After seeing it for myself, I can see why the plot might be difficult to explain, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

The very first thought I had throughout and after this movie, as a way to compare this movie, is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you’ve seen that movie and liked it, then you would like this movie. Both movies have beautiful, phenomenal imagery. Specifically the space scenes. Both movies also jump through time, and takes special notes on humble beginnings. And on a personal note, both movies can be extremely confusing at certain points in the film. They also have interesting markers, that for me, I interpret as “chapters.”

I’d like to think of myself as an intellectual and that I could appreciate this movie on a higher level… and I do… but at times I felt like I was missing something huge, or maybe I missed a little piece that would’ve made something else make sense. Things were happening that I didn’t understand, and I wondered why or if it may have been relevant to the plot, which also was tricky to find at first. There were narrations from different characters and the characters themselves weren’t the kind to explain what they were doing or feeling. I didn’t have a problem with that. I actually like a movie that doesn’t cut up my food in tiny pieces so I can chew it better. But at the same time, I think it gave me a few pieces of steak that were too big and all I had was a butter knife. But for what it was worth, I understood what the movie was about and trying to say.

And the simple bare bones of the plot is that a man named Jack is a lost soul, and is searching for answers. Perhaps that’s over simplifying it a bit, because there’s definitely so much more to the story, but what must be understood is that this movie lends itself to surrealism and the balance between nature and spirituality, so expect to see visuals that may require interpretations of your own… or maybe help from a friend. The majority of the story takes place during Jack’s childhood, as he learns from his parents about the keys to life. Love and grace from his mother, strict rules and do-it-yourself from his father, and how their parenting styles collide with each other and within young Jack as he grows up in the 50’s.

I could parallel my own life with young Jack and some of his rites of passage, along with having a father that embodies working hard to make it and a mother that epitomizes love and tenderness. My parents weren’t exactly like Jack’s, but I could relate. We are invited to see the world through his eyes as he grows up with their life lessons. Oh, and just to note, this movie doesn’t follow the rules of linear storytelling. It’s not as drastic as a Tarantino flick, but certain events happen that might not become clear until after the movie… or with the help of friends.

Terrence Malick, aka T-Mak

Speaking of directors, I’m not that familiar with Terrence Malick, or whom we affectionately dubbed “T-Mak,” and his body of work. I’ve seen The New World once upon a time, but I didn’t like it very much. And he apparently is most famous for his war film The Thin Red Line, which I remembered at the time: the other war movie that wasn’t Saving Private Ryan. But I will check out his other films sooner or later. He’s got so much acclaim, I think of him as one of those filmmaker’s filmmakers. He has an impressive bio and is one that should be checked out. A master craftman who takes his time to perfect his skill (meaning this film took a long time to complete). He’s also a notorious recluse, it’s a big deal whenever his films are released. Think the opposite of Woody Allen.

To the people that asked me how the movie was, my first response was “it’s not for everyone.” And at first, I had to figure out if I even liked it, which is really what they were asking me. And my answer is that I do. I would watch this again just to enjoy the scenery. I’d even pop this DVD to let it wash over me as I slept… which is something we discussed in the group I was in afterwards. That’s not to say this movie was boring, which is why I say it’s not for everyone. For someone like my father, who’s into action movies or comedies, this is a snoozefest. If I wasn’t so amazed by the cinematography and the music blending in with the images and the wonderful life-like acting, I might have found myself getting into a nap position myself. But you know how you’d put on some easy listening or sounds of the ocean to relax and fall asleep to? That’s how I felt a good chunk of this film was, except for some of the childhood family scenes.

So overall, I do like this movie. Maybe not enough to own it myself, and only recommended for those serious cinema buffs out there. But hey, I could be wrong and maybe the Steven Segal fan would appreciate this movie too. But if you haven’t caught the hint, this is a good movie for discussions: morals, life, spirituality, mortality, filmmaking, photography… it can get deep. If there are any points I left out, I’ll be sure to discuss it in my follow up film reflection, coming soon.

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May 2011
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