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Overstreet

The Tree of Life (2011)

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Are you speaking of Desplat's actual score, or the classical music that comprises the bulk of the score (Bach, Gorecki, Berlioz, Smetana)? Desplat's score is nothing special, a lot of forgettable musical wallpaper. But the classical music used in the film is wonderful stuff, even if some of it borders on being a bit too Classical Greatest Hits (though I suppose that makes some sense given the role Pitt's character's musical tastes play in the formulation of Penn's character's psyche).

I knew going into the film that score, as it appeared onscreen, was similar to The New World in regard to it's mashup of classical top 40 with original pieces. (I own the New World ST and don't love it as a whole, for that very reason)

But there was not a single, distinct Desplant moment that I can recall-- with the exception of a certain, odd string/bell sound effect used twice, that happens to be an exact swipe from an effect used in Zimmer's score from TTRL (!) Since the film resembles something closer to a long-form music video than a traditional narrative movie, this was a bummer. The OST for Thin Red Line has moments that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

BTW, I own Desplant's soundtrack for The Painted Veil, and enjoy his work on it quite a bit.

Edited by Greg P

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Saw this in Toronto on Canada Day. Just have waded through the preceding pages of discussion. Lots to chew on and enjoy. Some good conversation points.

Up front, I loved it. Which isn't exactly what I was expecting. I'm a big Malick fan, and some of the comments on the nature/grace dichotomy, the ending, etc. had me expecting to have reservations, but they didn't bother me much, as I think I have a different understanding of them. I think Matt Zoller Seitz is right when he says this is a memory piece along the lines of Proust. I guess I see the whole film as projected from within Jack's POV much more than I expected.

A couple of other comments:

I haven't seen the film yet (and probably won't until July when it gets a wider release in Canada), but I'd like to see those who have seen the film push back against Koehler a bit more.

Yup.

In particular, I'd like to see a defense of the nature/grace dialectic.

I guess I don't see the nature/grace dialectic as being as...dialectical as I expected. I think the fact that this is a person wrestling with their own struggles ("Am I a good person?") is important. I think those who read the mother as some sort of symbol of grace are off a bit. Rather, I think she is the primary vessel for Jack's "experience" of grace in his own life, and that colours his perception. Just as I was unprepared for how sympathetic and earnest Pitt's portrayal of the father was.

Cathleen Falsani

Terrence Malick's film, "Tree of Life," is nearly indescribable.

You reviewers keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I think the film is fairly easy to describe, actually. I actually wish it were harder to describe. Zerkalo... now there's a film that's difficult to describe.

However, if the audience hangs in there, as the film concludes with a scene that has startling emotional power, they may realizes that they have not heard a story as much as they have had an experience.

Perhaps that was Malick's goal.

When making a film that is, essentially, the chronicling of God's relationship with humankind, even the most eloquent narrative would seem anemic.

But seeing God and experiencing the Divine? That's is an entirely different kind of story.

Yes, I agree that this film is not nearly as "difficult" as I everyone is making it out to be. I think its straightfowardness is going to be a stumbling block to some. I took a grad course this past year on art film and this isn't quite on the level of ZERKALO as far as difficulty (and even ZERKALO isn't as confusing as people make it out to be). I also agree that there are some scenes of "startling emotional power" though the end of the film wasn't the most powerful for me.

Victor Morton is tweeting up a storm. He loves it. Gives it a 9, where he says that The Thin Red Line and The New World *combined* only merited a 5.

Yeah yeah ... I knew that in the words of the great philosopher Ricardo Ricardo, I got some splainin to do.

I think why I liked TREE OF LIFE so much, while so disliking his previous two films, is that TREE seems properly structured, rooted ::whistling2::, not leaving you wandering around trying to figure out what this is all about, why am I watching *this* *now.* I'll need to look at it a second time to be sure but it seems the opening title card makes the whole thing astonishingly simple.

I think Malick has reconfigured the Book of Job as a stream-of-conscious novel, sort of how Joyce reconfigured THE ODYSSEY. Malick uses all kinds of Biblical motifs without being tied down to a straight-down-the-line allegory/transposition (e.g., Jessica Chastain is photographed and characterized as if she were Blessed Virgin Herself, though her son isn't The Son) because it's as much a memory piece as a cosmology.

The film's first "movement" sets up the conventional Job/theodicy question -- why do we suffer? The second movement is God's cosmic answer -- "Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth?" (in the Douay-Reims rendition; don't remember which translation Malick used for the first part of his opening title card) rendered cinematically as a Creation story. The third movement is the subjective memories of a discontented modern Catholic man (Penn) going through a spiritual reconciliation with his boyhood paternal resentments, which the memories themselves are the progressive record of (is that clear?). Or as I said with Christian and David S. on Saturday night -- a soul finding its contentment. The fourth movement is Heaven, the ultimate contentment -- a reconciliation of all his memory, when he sees as he is seen. The second part of Malick's Job card has (significantly, I think) an ellipse and is itself broken into two ideas -- "When the morning stars praised me together (the second movement and the environment in the third), and all the sons of God made a joyful melody (the soul's process of Becoming which is the third movement, and the consummation of which is the Fourth)."

Is that clear?

Regardless, I assure you I thought I understood every moment in TREE OF LIFE, at least in terms of its emotional content, as the film was passing through my eyes, as if Malick wasn't engaging in obscurantism or vagueness-masquerading-as-ambiguity (both of which I hate). The fact that there's a clear overall structure lets us (well, me) appreciate the moments AS moments, give them their proper significance (AS memories snatched from time), and understand why a conventional dramatic narrative doesn't really develop (or does so very thinly; a psychological one most definitely does, though).

I think you're pretty spot on in your analysis.

But Pitt. Back to acting. Wow.

I'd read a lot about Tree of Life before seeing it, so a lot of it had been "spoiled" for me (I don't particularly care), but I was completely unprepared for Pitt's performance. So much of the film's dialogue seems almost beside-the-point, but I can't get over his delivery of "that poor boy" early on. So much shame, regret, and heartache in those words.

Yes, it is a powerful performance. The most "emotionally arresting" scenes in the film for me were Pitt's.

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Just posting this because I didn't see a link further up in the thread. But I like what Ignatiy has to say over at mubi.com (as usual).

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Jeffrey Wells after seeing the film again:

Life is still a gentle, layered, highly undisciplined cosmic church-service movie -- a quiet spiritual environment to dream inside of and meditate by. But (and I'm sorry to say this in a way) it doesn't gain with a second viewing. And all very good or great movies tend to do this. So what's wrong?

The quickest way to discourage me from listening to your opinion of a movie? State your impression of it as if it is The One True Impression, as if there's no room for debate, as if our experiences in a darkened theatre for two hours aren't both complicated and enhanced by our individual histories, memories, sensibilities, and desire.

My second viewing of The Tree of Life was a much richer, more transporting, more rewarding experience. But it was my experience, and I would never presume it to be anybody else's.

I'm getting messages from somebody who disagrees with my take on Cars 2. He keeps telling me that it "certainly does deliver" at the level of other Pixar films. I told him that my experience was different, but that I'm certainly not going to tell him that his enjoyment of the movie was "wrong." He argued back as if this is a situation with a simple right-and-wrong answer. That's where the conversation stops for me, because art is just too mysterious, and our encounters with it are very personal. And I'm still trying to unlearn old habits. I keep finding old reviews of mine in which I took the same tone as Jeffrey Wells here. Man, I would have hated to read me back then. I sounded arrogant, disrespectful, and even ignorant.

So the movie "didn't gain with a second viewing" for Wells. If he had made that language personal, I'd have kept on reading. But he just entirely disregarded and dismissed the contrary experiences of others. So... no thanks.

And I'd have been happy to listen to my friend try to persuade me of the merits of Cars 2... if he'd treated it as a conversation about differing experiences instead of simply denying the merits of any opinion but his own.

Many thanks to those who have made this A&F thread on The Tree of Life a pleasure in the way they've shared their impressions with respect, humility, and a belief that their experience of the film is continuing through an exchange of ideas with others. And thanks to those who are patient with me when I stumble back into the arrogance that poisons so much critic-speak. When we strike that kind of "grace-first" tone with each other, A&F is a truly wonderful place.

Edited by Overstreet

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I think those who read the mother as some sort of symbol of grace are off a bit. Rather, I think she is the primary vessel for Jack's "experience" of grace in his own life, and that colours his perception.

This is a distinction worth making, and I think you're right, but I don't think it wholly changes the terms of discussion re: the role of the mother in the film.

Yes, I agree that this film is not nearly as "difficult" as I everyone is making it out to be.

Absolutely. In some ways, I'd say THE TREE OF LIFE is the least "difficult" film that Malick has made.

The most "emotionally arresting" scenes in the film for me were Pitt's.

Yes. His character, and his arc, somewhat stole the show for me. Which, given that all TREE OF LIFE has going on, is quite an accomplishment. But Pitt brings such a convincing humanity to his part--a part I feared would be little more than an archetype--and, in truth, becomes the heart of the film. I wish his character's turnaround was given more time.

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And of his other films the only one to show parenting*** too...the glimpse of marriage, the silences as well.

And on a lighter note baseballs cards in bicycle spokes, and letting go of your ride in a sunplashed meadow.... kapow.

Was the dinosaur bone or rock found and heaved by the middle son ( was it him?) in that meadow ....was that some remnant of one of the dinosaurs earlier ?

***correction

The New World ....the scene with her baby and one of the most transplendent joy filled hide and go-seek games ever put to film but never like this....over the kitchen table no less... in the most mundane manner...as memorial with a candle( or was that a counter top)... as a parent and as estranged son just trying to get through the meal without pissing off the old man or counterpoint regain lost ground in connection with your child... and even there as place of solace at job loss...reconciliation...

Also i was moved by the fall of Jack (Job 31:1 mentions a covenant with the eyes ).... i had a complete suspension of disbelief taken in so .... not since Jackson's Gollum have I been drawn in by a slip, pardon the pun, into a "bent" habit of being and how subtle its unintentional consequences compound.

gollum...cough..... golllum....we wansth our Malick....we needsth our Malick, even when itsth not Juicthy thweet nor on our own termmms. The Mysthery endures.

Edited by Jacques

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I had thought about seeing this film again last night, but I was tired and ended up going to bed around the final showtime of the film. Right choice.

Tonight, as that final showtime (9:45) approached, I realized I wasn't tired at all. Our evening church service had been canceled. Everything was running ahead of schedule for a Sunday night. Kids were asleep. I wasn't sure what, if anything, I was going to do. I finished my copy of The Art and Craft of Coffee, talked about food purchases (Polyface, and an online "healthy foods" retailer) with Sarah, and found myself wondering if I might watch one of my newly acquired DVDs. Or, hey ... The Tree of Life is playing at 9:45. And I don't have to go to work tomorrow.

I made the quick drive to the theater, paid, and then froze when the ticket-taker said, "Theater 6 to your left."

Theater 6? You mean the little shoebox -- the smallest theater of the six-plex (about 90 seats), with the smallest screen, with an exit door right up against the mall area where people mill about and talk loudly? I've seen films in that theater and heard the noise seep in through the door. I've had some not so great experiences in that theater. But I've also had at least one really great experience there, against all odds. What would The Tree of Life be like in that theater? I was prepared for disappointment.

The screening was stellar. First, the film was in perfect focus. Do you know how unusual that is? This theater has, over the year, gotten worse about keeping its films in sharp focus. If ever a movie needs proper projection, it's this one. So I was thrilled. Also, there's nothing else happening in the mall area at 9:45 p.m. on a Sunday. Even the din from the lobby quickly disappeared as people entered the 9:30-ish screenings.

Some college kids in the rows behind me were chatting up a storm before the lights dimmed, but as I had hoped and had halway expected, given that this is an "art" theater that attracts a pretty serious crowd, these kids quieted down as soon as the lights dimmed. I didn't hear a peep out of them until I exited the theater, whereupon I heard one of them tell his friends, "I have NO IDEA why Barry thought that was a great movie. Let's ask him."

Thanks to that guy for waiting until AFTER the movie to voice his opinion out in the lobby. Good man!

Two people did walk out about 75 minutes into the film. The few earlier walkouts were just people using the restroom or concessions; they all came back. One older man in the row in front of me left three or four times, but he kept returning.

And we did have two walk-INs about 10 minutes into the creation sequence. Who buys a ticket that long after the movie starts. Their loss.

The loudest reaction was a man in the very back. As the credits rolled, he alone applauded and shouted "AMEN!"

I learned a lot from the film on second viewing -- filled in some holes with details I was too overwhelmed to notice the first time through.

As for the critical consensus on this film, am I correct in remembering that the early reactions to this film were that the first hour was great, the second more "conventional" and therefore not up to par with the first hour, and that, with that House Next Door conversation, the film's strengths are said to lie in the film's second hour, chiefly the sequences of the boys playing in Waco? Like most everything else about this movie, I've probably not fully understood all that I've read about it, and don't want to take the time right now to go back through everything (it's 1:07 a.m. and I have to wake up early for our annual July 4 parade; so much for my restful day off, although seeing Tree again was worth it). I realize I'm latching on to select reactions to the film, but I wonder if anyone else has noticed similar distinctions being made about the film, and whether there's a pivot in appreciation for one part of the film at the expense of another (and if that balance has shifted since the film opened).

Edited by Christian

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Anders said:

I think those who read the mother as some sort of symbol of grace are off a bit. Rather, I think she is the primary vessel for Jack's "experience" of grace in his own life, and that colours his perception.

Yeah I think you have a point.

The more I ponder on the film..... the more I see the film as also touching on the "perfect" 1950's type family, and how maybe the culture at that time wasn't as healthy as what many seem

to believe, in our time. On the outside he looked like a good upstanding man, and she was the loving submissive wife both which could be seen as somewhat like the Ozzy and Harriet T.V. show and other family shows from the 50's. Yet as I've mentioned before, I think this 50's era loving submissive wife should have done more to protect her kids.

It seems that many people want to move back to that culture in some ways but I've read that the family unit in the 50's culture wasn't all that it's cracked up to be, as emotional and physical abuse in the family

still happened, but it was hidden away and not dealt with. On the outside looking like an idyllic society, but sometimes really being one that just plain overlooked abuse.

It was also interesting to see that the boy grew up to follow some of his fathers advise about getting ahead in the world.... and as an adult it made him miserable. Could it be that this is also a look at some form

of 50's mentality, it being a time when a persons status and the value of life was often measured by how many cars they had in their driveway. Also I wonder if Mr. Obrien represented a man whose father was killed in

WW2 and thus never fully had his own father figure impressing on him how to be a good father. He was kinda flying solo without any guidance. This was also a time when "real men" weren't encouraged to deal with their

issues or fully show their emotions, thus sometimes dealing with their issues in unhealthy ways. Also, maybe, sometimes not showing their love towards their children properly. In his attempts at affection he seemed to be taking love from the boys instead of giving it to them.

Terrence Malick would have been a teenager in 50's America and I wonder how much of the film is a reflection of his memories and thoughts on this era, and it's influences on it's youth.

Edited by Attica

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Question for the panel: What is the best or most insightful positive review or critique of The Tree of Life you have encountered? How about the best or most insightful negative review?

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Alejandro Adams' review (which he related on video) has been, for me, the most thoughtful account of the film's problems. I've read so many thoughtful positive reviews that I'm not sure where to begin, but I'm frustrated by those that focus on Malick himself instead of the movie. I'll have to read back through some of them.

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And for most critics, it’s a win or lose proposition: Is The Tree of Life, to quote one eager blogger, one of the 30 best films ever made, or is it an egocentric disaster, showing all the signs of an artist unchecked?

I like the fact that this is raised right at the beginning of that piece, since I don't think the film belongs in either category.

I am surprised at how many intelligent film goers are willing to accept the "nature"/"grace" dichotomy so blithely.

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I am surprised at how many intelligent film goers are willing to accept the "nature"/"grace" dichotomy so blithely.

We might see elements where it's challenged within the film, but, personally, I don't see those challenges as strong enough to really topple the dichotomy Malick presents. This may be a case of "What you see is what you get," and while it's perhaps shocking in the eyes of some to suggest that filmmaker as interested in ambiguity as Malick would actually produce a film so straightforward about its ideas, my experience with his 2007 script, which was very up-front about its ideas and used them as a consistent through-line, suggests otherwise. In TREE OF LIFE, Malick might be challenging the dichotomy, but he might not be, either.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Pardon the delayed reaction(s); I spent a day or more away from A&F sick last week, and I've spent the days since catching up and keeping up with other threads that haven't proliferated as quickly as this one has.

Though, for the sake of argument, we do have some story elements of adult Jack; he's apparently an architect, married, and with no kids as far as we can tell.

To the extent that we can understand any of the "adult Jack" sequences in anything resembling a literalistic sense, yes.

If you can locate the interview, I'd be interested to read it.

It's a review, not an interview, but you can read it here. This is the relevant bit:

A detectable pattern emerges: Ideas are stated, and then not explored in cinematic terms. Worse: the ideas contradict one another. Take the matter of grace vs. nature, which Malick clearly intends as his central dialectic. The ways in which these two states of mind/existence are defined by Malick has little to do with any recognizable view of either. Grace is typically associated with either the comforting power of a supreme being, or in Malick’s Pantheistic view, an equilibrium between humans and nature. As for Nature, philosophers have clashed for centuries over it’s essential meaning, ranging from the kind of anthropomorphism dramatized by Malick with his dinos or poets’ use of “the pathetic fallacy” to a more scientific view that sees Nature as an amoral process of birth, life, death, decay and regeneration–the view, if you will, of “2001.” But Malick has wholly confused his terms. Two direct literary influences on The Tree of Life are William Faulkner and D. H. Lawrence; Faulkner for his fracturing of narrative into a stream-of-consciousness, better to convey the unstructured momentum of inner thought and emotions, and for his fascination with the eternal battle between fathers and sons; Lawrence for his concern with the conflict between what he viewed as ”nature” and “will.” Mr. O’Brien is a purely Lawrencian character, which Malick proceeds to utterly misread. Rather than representing nature (that would actually be Mrs. O’Brien, who’s constantly depicted outdoors, under the trees, walking barefoot in the grass, dipping her toes in water), Mr. O’Brien is pure will, and he states it as such in a few lines of dialogue while advising his sons on the cruel ways of the world. His entire character can be viewed as a man trying to exert his will on his sons to follow in his path; the middle son’s interest in music draws him closer to the father, who regrets aborting his own music studies (now channeled into some organ playing of Bach and record-spinning of Brahms and other composers at home), and which seems to spur Jack’s jealousy. This is not nature, but it’s opposite, the human forces impinging themselves upon nature, exactly as Lawrence viewed it.

How you respond to that may or may not depend on what we make of Koehler's reference to Malick's "direct literary influences". Is this something Koehler gleaned from the press kit, for example? Or is he only intuiting it?

And then there is the fact that mere mortals have sometimes been given a glimpse of the heavenly realms without actually dying first; think of Isaiah, or of Paul being caught up to the "third heaven", or of the stories that have been told of other saints since then.

Point taken, although I don't see any reason to think that this final sequence is at all similar to such instances; surely Malick, an individual seemingly well-aware of such iterations of "heaven" would have had the wherewithal to create an environment indicative of what we know of those aforementioned iterations.

Well, I hardly think I was suggesting that we should read Malick's film as literalistically as we might read those passages in Isaiah or Paul. (Though even the biblical passages have their own element of mystery.)

I will interject that the only real element which could speak to the alternate reality being heavenly for me is the shot with the mother, and the "angels" behind her. Incidentally I would agree that this is an insufferably kitsch moment; but it's so brief that I don't put a lot of weight into it.

I think the brevity is a LOT less important than the fact that this is the scene in which the mother gives her son to God (or whoever). (The fact that some interpreters have misconstrued this scene, leading to a debate or discussion over the meaning of this scene in later posts in this thread, underscores the importance of this scene, brevity or no brevity.)

Besides the fact that as far as I can remember, the mother depicted in that shot (shots?) is definitely not in the same frame of reference as the mother on the beach with her family, unless I'm seriously forgetting something.

I have no idea what you mean by this. The mother might not be sharing the frame with her family in that shot, but she IS sharing the frame with the woman who led adult Jack to the beach, no?

And yet, it really still doesn't make sense as that alternate reality you speak to. He sees his father there, a character we know to still be alive in the world, as Jack calls him on the phone while in the skyscraper. I also have this vague recollection of Jack's childhood self being there as well, but I couldn't be certain.

Maybe it's all the sci-fi I've read and watched over the years, but I don't necessarily see "heaven" as being constrained by time in that way. Certainly not in a movie as deliberately trippy as this one.

If it is indeed metaphor, then by virtue of pure common sense, he has to take us out of what we know to be familiar in the film up to that point.

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but that doesn't matter, because the more salient question is why any of Malick's artistic decisions "have to be" dictated by "common sense" in the first place.

"it is the job of the critic to keep pointing out what the artist has actually done, and to probe or explain the discrepancies that might arise between those two things."

Yes there's kids and adults that cant play the game and just enjoy being the referee i understand and appreciate that…. but this line if one is gong to be didactic… amounts to bean counting and reveals the worst- a dry parasitic relationship..

Well, sure, if you want to write off everyone who merely watches movies (as opposed to making them) as a "parasite". (And yes, I regard everyone who watches and discusses a movie as a potential if not actual "critic".) But the fact is, those who watch movies are not automatically less correct about the meaning of those movies than the people who make them.

critics are a counterpoint much like Job's friends to the referent

That's a silly analogy, if what you're trying to say is that critics are all bad, bad, bad. Sure, some critics may be as toxic or frustrating as Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar. But others are wise and balanced like Elihu. The Book of Job does not, despite its title, assume that everyone who corrects or contradicts Job is in the wrong. It allows for criticism of Job, too -- and not just by God.

America has found its prophet, or at least a director of astonishing rank.

What a bizarre term to use in this discussion -- "prophet" -- given that this film explicitly nods towards the poetic books of the Bible, rather than the prophetic ones.

But it takes time to recognize anything as a "masterpiece," and this film has just arrived.

FWIW, I'm intrigued by what our own N.W. Douglas wrote at Facebook the other day, apparently after seeing the film a third time. I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him here:

I think it's pointless to try to label this a "masterpiece" in any way. Not because it isn't skillfully made, but because the film indicates a filmmaker who is groping so passionately with matters far beyond his grasp, with such a sense of reckless pursuit, that any attempt to bring the sort of control and perspective needed to create a "masterpiece" - the greatest work of a craftsman - is useless. Masterpieces keep a grip on their subjects; some looser than others but none ever losing complete control. Masterpieces enthrall while reminding us of their maker's skill. The Tree of Life has moments that approach that, but I find this film's formal humility places it on its knees more than any other work by Malick, and in a way that Kubrick would never deign to suffer. For all of the charges of overambitious efforts and grandiose pretentiousness and maybe/maybe-not autobiographical details, The Tree of Life is not *about* its maker. It's about ours.

That might be stating the obvious for a film that opens with a quote from Job. What I'm trying to get at is this: masterpieces may bubble up unplanned from blissfully unaware talents, or they may be ultra-controlled and premeditated, or most likely, an unqualified marriage of the two; either way they always draw our attention back to the maker in some way. Tree of Life is too messy, too lumpy, too unrestrained in the right places to really do that in a way that ratchets up my opinion of Malick as someone with a handle on what he's doing with complex themes. He clearly doesn't; not like the sublime balance he achieves in The New World, nor even the comparatively shallow "mastery" of The Thin Red Line. This is different. This is a man being mastered by what he doesn't know. This is a master learning that he is still a babe. The Tree of Life is a blessed mess. Sort of like us.

It's funny how readily critics and viewers take the voiceovered fragments as a thematic guide to the film, despite the contradictions and tensions those words create. The mother might make that nature/grace division, and we might easily slot dad/mom and OT God/NT God into those ready-made dichotomies, but I'm inclined to think that we're ultimately encouraged by the film to reject those lazy categories.

Well, there was also the movie's interactive website, which identified the father with "nature" and the mother with "grace". Granted, we shouldn't necessarily project the movie's PR campaign onto the movie itself, but it's all part of the context within which the film was initially received.

The quickest way to discourage me from listening to your opinion of a movie? State your impression of it as if it is The One True Impression, as if there's no room for debate, as if our experiences in a darkened theatre for two hours aren't both complicated and enhanced by our individual histories, memories, sensibilities, and desire.

Wow, you're reading a lot into that one paragraph of Wells's. People say things like "it hasn't aged well" or "it doesn't hold up to a second viewing" all the time. I see nothing "arrogant, disrespectful, and even ignorant" here.

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Favorite reviews

VJ Morton Scott Derrickson and Joel C...

Published:

Eberts for the heart and Overstreet's for the brain, his thoughtful handling of dissonance and the honesty …I'd like to recognize the talented, Alejandro Adams too but that segment reminded me to too much of a Saturday Night Live skit , the impressionism of Dinosuars and the criticism of Malicks expressionism this irony had me in stitches.. and even recalled the professor in that movie line of Annie Hall, and sadly as he is a talent Adams lost me with mentioning Agee while ignoring James Agee's own symphonic works that are quite in common with said film being reviewed …. this omission seemed inferior at best , glaring at worse making it seem like indy IFC kitch, a young Hamlet lamenting on the ghost of his artistic father for not going along with his own expectations…and his own anxieties of influence ( see Bloom )

Anders wonderfully wrote:

"I think those who read the mother as some sort of symbol of grace are off a bit. Rather, I think she is the primary vessel for Jack's "experience" of grace in his own life, and that colours his perception."

I wonder . the use of symbol or better vessel of grace in light of this is ironic…lets discern, as here, does one really want to use the word vessel as an objective-correlative it seems off. Saying Mrs Obrien is a symbol does not mean she is immaculate….whats the dissonance there? the only commonality to Mary is that they share a death of her son…and offers that death up ….in obedience, i.e. fiat..

we accept portrayels of grace in music by the Beatles or in songs by U2 but in film ?

Im biased yes, foolishly so, and on a personal level i have shakenly witnessed this outside of my love of film and books and thus hold fast to this recognition presented by this film..this obedience this faith...whether in the blocking of a pieta scene… in the physical sense or verbally as little or fleeting as here in the Tree of Life …a humbling catalogue all, and fall before such Love. Capitol L , full stop, period.

First i do not mean to come off snarky, I appreciate the efforts Anders and of others who hold to another vantage, and learn accordingly, but there is something afoot and while it seems more like analogy of the glass half empty or half full: - our distinctions and conclusions perhaps may have more to do with our traditions than perhaps the film itself.

Regardless the dialogue here is rich and rewarding. Perhaps even more rewarding as the bold insertion by Malick of that magical realism( if thats more palpable) of her levitating….its remarkable…some might see Tarkovsky…others Chagell.. and in Catholic tradition theres a few that fly..st Joseph of Cupertino comes to mind.. regardless , I find it striking this leap on the part of the director. Is this is the only leap of (faith) exhibited in his (Malicks) work ?

Would the symbol be better if it was more secular: a freudian or Jungian symbol instead - would that help explain the mystery ..whats the need here by some to throw the baby out with bath water? With all do respect yet I find this surprising even here at A&F and in this case a reductionism of incarnational art that for me, this film presents as an example.

Edited by Jacques

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I wish we'd seen a moment where she was less than perfect with the kids, though. Just one moment where she snapped at one of the boys in exhaustion, or brushed them aside when they came to her. In general, I adore the 1950s childhood section of the film, but her semi-perfection--including the ludicrous "levitating" moment--is somewhat irritating.

Yep. The fact that we see the film from Jack's POV doesn't negate the fact that his memory should be a little more complicated. There should be something he remembers that would at least let us read between the lines a little more.

This is a problem with the film, I think. When we see the world through the father's eyes, he becomes a more fully human character, and is thus more sympathetic. When we see the world through the mother's eyes, she still seems as idealized as she does through the eyes of her awestruck son.

Definitely.

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Peter C absence noticed, glad your better and back...i knew the term parasitic would ruffle , hence my awareness of the lack.. it is silly perhaps but i was coming from the stand point of the Critic in Ratatouille - his vampire vibe... before he tastes a thing of beauty.. shifting his paradigm...and regaining some palor too his skin and heart as well.

re: are critics bad , of course not-that would be silly but like Jobs friends they can miss the point*... and as is the case we see in the Anton Ego of Ratatouille(2007).

Anton Ego: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

They can be honest as critic Benjamin DeMott in the New York Times Book Review talki of a book by MArk Helprin,,,

“I find myself nervous, to a degree I don’t recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.”

And personal to a level of as Ebert July2 2011

Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other film I've seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and it lacked Malick's fierce evocation of human feeling. There were once several directors who yearned to make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few. Malick has stayed true to that hope ever since his first feature in 1973.

** missing the point can be the content of a good tale and narrative arc too.

Edited by Jacques

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This is a problem with the film, I think. When we see the world through the father's eyes, he becomes a more fully human character, and is thus more sympathetic. When we see the world through the mother's eyes, she still seems as idealized as she does through the eyes of her awestruck son.

Definitely.

And yet, in spite of what felt like a missing piece there - something that one or two shots could transform entirely (and might, if we see an extended version) - that second viewing was still the most enjoyable and rewarding experience I've had watching an American movie on the big screen since... well... The New World. And I can't wait to see it again. I'm hoping for at least two more big-screen viewings before it's gone from theatres.

Edited by Overstreet

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Jacques wrote:

: Peter C absence noticed, glad your better and back . . .

Thanks. I've been better for almost a week, but I've spent most of that time keeping up with the low-hanging fruit, as it were. (Hmmm. No "tree" metaphor intended there, but it works, I guess.)

: i was coming from the stand point of the Critic in Ratatouille - his vampire vibe... before he tastes a thing of beauty.. shifting his paradigm...and regaining some palor too his skin and heart as well.

Well and good, as far as that goes, but not every viewer is Anton Ego. (And I think we've discussed some of the problems with the famous "work of a critic" monologue in our thread on Ratatouille. Incidentally, that bit about the world being "unkind to new talent" is kind of ironic, given how Pixar sacked the original writer-director who conceived that film, no?)

: re: are critics bad , of course not-that would be silly but like Jobs friends they can be in error...

Or, like Elihu, they can be the wisest people on the block -- wiser than the artist AND wiser than the other critics.

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Thanks thats a good point about Elihu :)

Edited by Jacques

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I wish we'd seen a moment where she was less than perfect with the kids, though. Just one moment where she snapped at one of the boys in exhaustion, or brushed them aside when they came to her. In general, I adore the 1950s childhood section of the film, but her semi-perfection--including the ludicrous "levitating" moment--is somewhat irritating.

Yep. The fact that we see the film from Jack's POV doesn't negate the fact that his memory should be a little more complicated. There should be something he remembers that would at least let us read between the lines a little more.

Regardless of whether there "should" or "is" something he remembers, that's not how memories work, either in my understanding of how memory is understood theoretically or in my observations of my parents memories of their own parents as they age. The modal imperative that Jack's memories "should" be more complicated seems to be more than a work of art, or a person's own reflections can bear.

I hope to revisit the film again soon, though when I will be able to is in question (I went to Toronto on Friday in part because I'd be missing it's brief theatrical run in Waterloo in July, and it isn't playing in Saskatoon where I'll be spending the next three weeks). My impression is that, contrary to what other's have written, that I'm not sure we ever get anything outside of Jack's personally subjective memory; the creation of the world scenes, or his parents "thoughts" (I'm not satisfied with most of the commentary on the narration in this film, especially in light of the narration in his previous films) included seemed to me to be a part of his reflections on life. But I could be wrong.

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Anders wrote:

: The modal imperative that Jack's memories "should" be more complicated seems to be more than a work of art, or a person's own reflections can bear.

Well, this is the tension inherent in a film that photographically captures objective reality while putting it together in a subjective manner. Are we supposed to believe that everything the camera SEES is purely subjective? I don't think so. I mean, it's not like all the voice-overs are Jack's; some of them belong to other figures, too. There is more than one perspective here, so it SHOULD be fairly safe to assume that the visuals overlap with these MULTIPLE perspectives in some INTER-subjective (if not quasi-objective) way. If, however, the visuals are NEVER anything more than the products of a single person's thoughtstream, then what are we to make of the voice-overs? Is there anything on offer here other than pure solipsism?

: My impression is that, contrary to what other's have written, that I'm not sure we ever get anything outside of Jack's personally subjective memory; the creation of the world scenes, or his parents "thoughts" (I'm not satisfied with most of the commentary on the narration in this film, especially in light of the narration in his previous films) included seemed to me to be a part of his reflections on life. But I could be wrong.

Wow. I wrote my comment above before reading this paragraph. Well, like I say, if your hunch is correct, then the film is an exercise in pure solipsism and isn't worth all that much to me, really. The film -- like all relationships -- only has worth to the extent that it is about something more than what's going on in a single person's head. Films, ideally, should draw us out of ourselves and into some sort of Other, and ideally they should do this by example, by letting themselves be drawn into some sort of Other or by showing how their characters are drawn into each other's Otherness, or something like that. If, however, there is nothing onscreen here -- nothing -- other than figments of Jack's memory, projected onto the people in his life not unlike how the robot in A.I. Artificial Intelligence projects his own neuroses onto the mother of his fantasies, then this is anything but a transcendent film. It would be, in fact, a very sad and tragic film, no matter how faith-affirming some people make it out to be.

To come at this from another angle: I do not know how reconciled Jack can be to God (as some have interpreted the final scenes) if Jack is not in some way reconciled to the actual people in his life, and not just his conceptions of them. (The two greatest commandments, after all, point both ways: one of them points vertically to God, and the other points horizontally to our fellow human beings.) And I do not know how we, as an audience, can participate in this reconciliation unless the film shows us more than Jack's IDEA of these people.

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“Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation... while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” A beam of light unfurls.

THE TREE OF LIFE is a reflection on the meaning of life. What is the filmmaker trying to say? That is highly subjective. Aside from an opening narration that cues us in on the theme, the director leaves it to the audience to form our own conscious or subconscious impressions on the images he presents. Each audience member brings their own experiences which informs the meaning for them. This is a challenging film because of the nonlinear structure that shifts between time and space, three different character's points of view, and nature photography. I don't pretend to understand it all. My interpretation is drawn from my own memories and recounting similar images from science programs.

The filmmaker uses the opening narration to give us a handle on how to understand the nature images and memories to follow. The mother meditates, “There are two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose the way we will follow.” Basically, nature is competitive and only cares for itself while grace relies on a sense of oneness with all of existence.

Soon after the opening images and narration, we witness the family getting the news that one of their three sons has died. The Father, Mother and their oldest son try to make sense of the loss. This brings on a lot of soul searching about how the children were raised and inspires prayers requesting understanding of the meaning of life, suffering, and death.

Check out my interpretation at: www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com I would love to hear your interpretation too. Please, leave a comment.

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Anders wrote:

: The modal imperative that Jack's memories "should" be more complicated seems to be more than a work of art, or a person's own reflections can bear.

Well, this is the tension inherent in a film that photographically captures objective reality while putting it together in a subjective manner. Are we supposed to believe that everything the camera SEES is purely subjective? I don't think so. I mean, it's not like all the voice-overs are Jack's; some of them belong to other figures, too. There is more than one perspective here, so it SHOULD be fairly safe to assume that the visuals overlap with these MULTIPLE perspectives in some INTER-subjective (if not quasi-objective) way. If, however, the visuals are NEVER anything more than the products of a single person's thoughtstream, then what are we to make of the voice-overs? Is there anything on offer here other than pure solipsism?

I'll have to think about this some more, but I'm not much of a Bazinian, and either way I think this film challenges the notion of a photographic record of objective reality in the way it "recreates" (digitally or otherwise) the origin of the world. What are we to think also of clearly "subjective memories" or images of the mother in her Snow White coffin or "levitating"?

: My impression is that, contrary to what other's have written, that I'm not sure we ever get anything outside of Jack's personally subjective memory; the creation of the world scenes, or his parents "thoughts" (I'm not satisfied with most of the commentary on the narration in this film, especially in light of the narration in his previous films) included seemed to me to be a part of his reflections on life. But I could be wrong.

Wow. I wrote my comment above before reading this paragraph. Well, like I say, if your hunch is correct, then the film is an exercise in pure solipsism and isn't worth all that much to me, really. The film -- like all relationships -- only has worth to the extent that it is about something more than what's going on in a single person's head. Films, ideally, should draw us out of ourselves and into some sort of Other, and ideally they should do this by example, by letting themselves be drawn into some sort of Other or by showing how their characters are drawn into each other's Otherness, or something like that. If, however, there is nothing onscreen here -- nothing -- other than figments of Jack's memory, projected onto the people in his life not unlike how the robot in A.I. Artificial Intelligence projects his own neuroses onto the mother of his fantasies, then this is anything but a transcendent film. It would be, in fact, a very sad and tragic film, no matter how faith-affirming some people make it out to be.

To come at this from another angle: I do not know how reconciled Jack can be to God (as some have interpreted the final scenes) if Jack is not in some way reconciled to the actual people in his life, and not just his conceptions of them. (The two greatest commandments, after all, point both ways: one of them points vertically to God, and the other points horizontally to our fellow human beings.) And I do not know how we, as an audience, can participate in this reconciliation unless the film shows us more than Jack's IDEA of these people.

I like this, and you're forcing me to modify my position because the reality is that I don't really think the film is solipsistic. I like your ethical point about film. I would say that we are always gesturing to the Other whenever we try to communicate, even to ourselves, even if the only tools we have are subjective. I guess the film is about how reconciliation is possible given our memories of people.

Side note: I agree with you that the ending of A.I. is terribly sad and tragic, but I don't quite think that TREE OF LIFE is equivalent, though it would be possible to make a similar film that is equally as sad. I'm drawn back to Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR and how he deals with both collective and personal memories (he inserts documentary footage rather than CGI creation scenes as a gesture to the the communal experience of memory). I'm also troubled by the notion that it's an either/or: either they are figments, solipsistic memories of his mother, or they are objective facts. We're never given enough of either mother or father to create a full portrait of them apart from Jack's POV, but funnily enough I think the father comes across better in some respects, or at least his "Otherness" is allowed to "interact" more with Jack in his memories. My suggestion is that part of it is that Jack needs to reconcile with his father (and God) more than he feels the need to do so with his mother, who as I've mentioned before he feels at peace with in so far as she was the only outlet of grace in his life.

Another way I'd want to approach thinking about this dilemma (since I'm the one who raised it :)) is, instead of a subjective/objective dichotomy, we should think about rather "who is controlling the narrative?", not in a literal way (obviously Malick and his editors and crew are), but in the sense of a implied narrator. Not, "what's real and what's not?" but "who's consciousness is allowing us to glimpse these images and voiceovers, and what is the motivation for the choices?"

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Holy crap. Scoll down Here.

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