I do my best to talk about movies without repeating the storyline and giving out spoilers. Since Tree of Life has no storyline and the movie is spoiled already, I can safely say that the point of the film is to wallow in vague imagery for two plus hours, and then make you want to throw up from the shaky camera work. Vomiting would make you feel better after digesting this unsatisfying exercise in film school philosophizing. Just yesterday I said that the original Ghost Rider was maybe the worst film I’d seen in five years, well we have a new winner and I may not be putting a time limit on it.
More than a decade ago, I was warned away from the Thin Red Line. I’d seen Badlands and Days of Heaven, but a friend told me she would lose any respect for me if I liked the Thin Red Line. Her scorn was never at risk since I had heard enough to stay away to begin with. On the other hand I did enjoy The New World, but I only saw it one time and maybe revisiting it would highlight some warning signs for me. I was hesitant about the movie and I thought Tree of Life was supposed to run almost three hours. When we looked at our Best Picture Showcase Booklet, the run time was listed at 2:19. That did not sound bad. Well, I need to leave instructions for my end of life declaration that this movie be played on my last day on earth, because it will make it seem like I am living an extra ten years. Tree of Life is pretentious, and boring and pointless in so many ways, it is hard to find the words.
Several film sites that I follow and read have praised the movie for it’s innovation and visual storytelling. Anybody who thinks this movie is artistic genius, probably thought that the best part of 2001 was the light show near the end. People stoned on pot, at a lasariem show at Griffith Observatory, would have to drop acid three times to appreciate this. Whispered dialogue used in narrating story points is derided in many films, here it is praised even though the comments have no context, insight, or interesting language to go along with them. The visual spectacle of inner and outer space is beautiful to look at, but after a while it reminds you of a screen saver that you downloaded ten years ago for your computer. The classical music would be better to listen to with your eyes closed. Terrance Malick has created a doodle that lasts for more than two hours and people have been suckered into seeing something deep here.
Brad Pitt is a stern Father who loves his kids, despite the fact that one of them is a borderline head case. The boy does some kid stuff, some strange stuff and some deeply wrong stuff. All of this happens after we get the history of the universe in CGI, watercolor, nature documentary style shots. Oh, this includes the history of dinosaurs, from evolution to destruction by giant meteor. The scenes set in the human world are shot with a steady cam that is not steady at all. The dialogue, such as it is, sounds like ghosts muttering about nothingness. The acting in the movie is not acting at all, since there are no motivations or real human emotions on display. We have snippets of yelling, and deep looks and a lot of walking. Terrance Malick’s main direction to the actors must have been for foot placement and speed. Sean Penn appears to be the young boy all grown up, but all he has is maybe three lines of dialogue and twenty minutes of walking around deserts, modern buildings, and what is supposed to pass for heaven.
Like I said above, many reviews and on-line posts about the movie have described it as polarizing. Our audience was unified by this movie, we all hated it. I’d rather sit through an insurance seminar, followed by a division meeting, and then a Ghost Rider/Donnie Darko double feature, before I subject myself to this. We watched the Descendants after this, and that movie took only ten minutes to wrap up it’s goodby to a doomed character. Tree of Life is so constipated in trying to deal with the death of one character, that when the final goodbye gets said, you’ll wish all the other characters were dead too.