Dylan of Man, I Love Films Dan of Fogs’ Movie Reviews
The Tree of Life is a polarizing film.
It inspires passion, awe and affection in its supporters, contempt and scorn from its detractors. I’ve seen it on LAMB blogs as the Best Film of the Year. I’ve seen it on LAMB Blogs as the Worst Film of the Year. Few people fall in-between.
I love the film, personally. Yet I have to recommend it carefully to people, forewarning them that there’s a very good chance they won’t care for it. I say things like, “It’s not for eveyone”, or “IF you connect with it it’s great”. I have to. It ISN’T for everyone. It’s an extraordinarily challenging film that asks more of the viewer than perhaps any movie I’ve ever seen. You need to be patient, open minded, and willing to work.
Malick has created a film which challenges the medium. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, or an E.E. Cummings poem, “The Tree of Life” completely ignores the “standard definition” of what a film should be. Movie requisites such as plot and narrative structure? Gone. It’s dialogue free for great portions. It’s unmoored in time and perspective, and free to show whatever it wishes. It focuses on images as opposed to events, flashing long, free flowing strings of fascinating imagery in between the scenes with dialogue and plot points. The unwilling will reject it. Without the standard boundaries and framings, many people will refuse to accept it immediately. Still others, even with the willingness to be open to it, will fail to draw meaning from its montages and mysticism and fall by the wayside as well. But if you accept that this is a fillm which intends to provoke thought as opposed to convey thoughts, a film that sets out to inspire as opposed to inform, a movie that wants to leave you with questions more than it does with answers, then you stand a good chance of finding it as profound and moving as I did.
Interpretations will vary, and part of the joy of the movie is deriving your own meaning from it. My personal impressions and what I took away from it are below. I’m not putting it forth as any sort of definitive interpretation; it’s what the film meant to me, and an example of the level of thought this film can provoke.
It’s my belief that the “point of view” in the film isn’t that of Hunter McCracken / Sean Penn at all.
As the nonlinear, nearly free form montages of imagery of the movie flashed by me, it occured to me that the movie’s style was reminiscent of memories. Inexact. Impressionistic. Irrational. Emotional. Why do I remember THIS moment and not THAT moment? Is that even how it HAPPENED, or is that just how I FELT? The scary, the sweet, the meaningless. Flashes. The Sean Penn / Hunter McCracken character bookends seemed to strengthen my view… these are Penn’s recollections of being a child. But the famed dinosaurs and the “creation of the universe” sequence needed to be accounted for. If this is a view of life illustrated by the recollections of someone’s life, then… what’s with the dinosuars?
It was when I was working through the nature/nuture element of the film that it struck me that I might not be watching a person’s memories, but God’s.
Much has been made of the fact that Pitt’s stern father character represents the harsh nature of survival – the cruelty inherent in the struggle to survive. And Chastain’s character is representative of “grace”, the beauty and wonder of life. Correlations have been drawn between the family (representing humanity) and nature, with the basic equation being that Humans are cruel, yet beautiful because nature is cruel, yet beautiful. It was an easy jump for me to think well, with all the whispering questions regarding God… shouldnt the full equation be Humans are cruel, yet beautiful because nature is cruel, yet beautiful, because GOD is cruel yet beautiful?
Well, that line of thinking led me to Deify the movie’s perspective. It answered too many questions not to be at least partially valid (for me). So what I began to imagine was not a man remembering his questions about God, but God remembering a questioning boy/man. Assuming an omniscient God, the memories of a single person wouldn’t be inaccesible… And it led me to so many interesting questions I didn’t want to abandon it. What ARE God’s memories? Are they inexact and random like ours? Are they muddled and impressionistic, too? What if God was more like us than we think… and he/she/it doesn’t know what to make of it all either? Perhaps God questions its own existence as well… examines its own history for meaning, or has regrets or fond memories… Maybe, just like us, God is trying to figure out what the %#$& is going on.
I certainly didn’t arrive at any answers for myself, but it led me to such fascinating questions that I didn’t care.
And that’s the greatness in The Tree of Life. Much like life itself, it’s confusing, mysterious, wondrous, frightening. inscrutibale, and ultimately… beautiful.