Terrence Malick has directed 6 films in 42 years, working out as a film once every 7 years. With that simple fact alone one can acknowledge that Malick is a perfectionist and thus strives for perfection with each directorial release. The Tree of Life is no exception to that, in fact it’s idiosyncratic to that idea; The Tree of Life is a piece of cinema that not only aims for perfection (and quite frankly nearly achieves it) but transcends cinema as a whole and reaches the monumental heights of fine art.
The Tree of Life is almost Malick subjectively creating a film about himself. It’s autobiographical, but not cripplingly so. It’s more a film looking at the metaphysical question that we think about everyday. The nature of suffering. Is there a God? All these questions are questioned (and answered in Malick’s opinion) in the film.
Personally, I would say that Malick’s handling of religion is to be envied by directors. He’s critical of religion, questioning the nature of suffering and why it happens to innocent people, but also explains how religion is the answer to the question religion poses. It’s not so overtly religious to put off atheists. Nor is it so religiously didactic as to be only for theists.
Malick’s talent of making reality romantic is what makes him less of a director and more of a poet. It’s symphony to the senses, you’re not only engrossed during the retrospective view of childhood and the emotional brutality of it, but also stunned by the ecstatic beauty of it. About 30 minutes in, the film cuts to swirling nebulas, deep space and dinosaurs and you’re challenged to believe that this is a world that we live in, it’s so romantic and otherworldly you feel like you’re watching a fantasy world evolve, not your own.
However, what put me in awe most about this film isn’t the SFX or the message or even the theological truths it alludes to; but the use of music. Silence seems to be more powerful than words, thus there are moments of pure silence where you can just reflect, not only on the film at hand but what the film is trying to say, moments of pure bliss and emotional intensity without a word being uttered. The clip of the previously mentioned nebulas combined with the rich symphonies is not only a highlight of my film going year, but a highlight of my movie watching career.
The Tree of Life is many things: epic, profound, poignant, theological, ecstatic, mystifying, astonishing and unforgettable. But in its purest essence it is a romantic tale of love, loss and desperation. The Tree of Life is destined to become what W.H Auden’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is to Literature. It not only transcends an art form but trail blazes for directors who attempt to achieve a similar stature to this.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (July ’11)
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