Wednesday, November 2, 2011

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick, 2011, USA)

The story of a man who could live 65 lifetimes and feel it could still be better. Patchwork memories that haunt the convolutions of the brain, the soul a ghost lost in the temporal network of neurons and synapses, like a warm breeze trapped in the steel and glass valleys of mid-life. Here, a boy still exists within this schism, struggling between shame and respect, affection and hate, and the fear of discovering that his father is all too human, fragile, imperfect. Now he has become a man who is so like his father that he despises himself, caught in a life of doing instead of being, gaining material success but losing himself in the process.

Terence Malick's spatial odyssey evokes the metaphysical dream worlds of Tarkovsky, the spiritual malaise of Bresson, and even the echo of Lynch’s nightmarish subjective monologue, all the while retaining his own vision through a glass clearly, eschewing linear movement and capturing the etherealness of existence from the Big Bang to Sol’s final whisper. The grandiose cinematography is the story, vignettes refracted through subjective impressions, weaving every grain of sand and fallen leaf into a tapestry of life. People in search of a Prime Mover in a desperate attempt to catalogue their world, to make sense of the nonsensical, renaming fear as faith.

Malick captures lightning in a bottle, the ethereal penumbra of childhood whose shadows lurk in the bright corners of our mind, flash reflections like heat lightening on a summer night. This small Texas town is ubiquitous both in place and time, and the restlessness inherent in our human condition blinds with curiosity, ignorance, and bitter affection. Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, and especially Hunter McCracken breath life into the clay of their characters, transcending the borders of the frame where life isn't confined to a specific aspect ration. Jack becomes an architect, a designer himself, manipulating the world into his vision. As he struggles with understanding this volatile world and coming to grips with his past, he finally sees nature reflected in the steel and glass buildings. With a slight smile of epiphany he realizes that modernity isn't in conflict with nature, it is an elemental ingredient.

Final Grade: (A+)


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I completely get you on the cinematography is the story, sort of like the medium sort of becomes the message. The film doesn't completely enthrall me because the basic father/son theme doesn't hold as much resonance for me but it works because it's such a personal offering which, at the best of times, augments its worth.

PS. This will sound so ridiculously neurotic, but I had to read the first sentence three times to get the full gravity. I think it would have more effect if the still goes before the feel.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Andrew for the kind words and insight. Yeah, that first sentence is a bit awkward and can be understood in different ways. I considered re-writing it but wanted to keep the exact same language that Malick used in the film (when the father tells the son a story).

It's funny that I wasn't too impressed with the film while I was watching it. I kept thinking of how he masterfully structered THE NEW WORLD, while this meandered through a philosophical wilderness. But it stuck in my mind for days and days (even now weeks later) and it moved me. I saw glimpses of my own childhood, shining light upon the dark waters of Lethe.