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The Tree of Life (2011)


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Kristen Scharold in Books and Culture:

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

I agree this is very... odd considering the length of his biography. Badlands kind of sealed the deal on that front. And not to mention a little film called The New World, which interacts directly with all the authors she lists.

It is great that Tree of Life is a Malick discovery for so many people, but The New World is still the masterpiece I hope people will actually start watching as a result.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I'm not surprised, after all you've written about the film and its script and how prepared you were to not like it, that you didn't care for the film.

That's not true. I did care for the film quite a bit, even if I do think it is severely flawed. In fact, it's because the film is so often magnificent and brilliant--particularly during its impressionistic take on Jack's childhood--that the ending, which I'd argue doesn't work on any level at all, is such a bitter disappointment. It tarnishes what came before.

Re: the script, as I said, the film is often so substantially different that I'm not sure it helps inform discussion of the film. The film is really a different animal, even if it does share the same basic skeleton as the script.

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And I don't think the mother represents grace. She believes in grace, and her actions often reflect grace...

Absolutely. 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.

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And I don't think the mother represents grace. She believes in grace, and her actions often reflect grace...

Absolutely. 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.

I agree. That would be consistent with Malick's method in The New World, in which the characters' naively ideological points of view are often directly contradictory to what they are doing and what evidence surrounds them.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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if thats the case then...

John Rolfe: [voiceover] Who are you? What do you dream of?

Pocahontas: We are like grass.

Pocahontas: [voiceover] Mother, why can I not feel as I should... must? Once false, I must not be again. Take out the thorn.

Pocahontas: [voiceover referring to John Rolfe] He is like a tree. He shelters me. I lie in his shade.*

Tell me, whats lazy or naively idealogical about these words ,,,,or was Malick's screenplay for Pocahontas just somehow a useless effort at rustic kitsch channeling a cliche of the Song of Songs 2:3 ....? or Paul, even !

Funny Russ ? i don't understand... a thematic guide** as in funny ha ha or funny ...as in to mock...if not, then help me to understand. please, why you go on to disqualify as "a lazy category" tell me whats the proactive category, the one with verve......no Malick's words and direction speak for themselves regardless of the a solipsism of a "lazy category" preferred.

Readily, this has nothing to do with it... its a given - the content is there: why the theBook of Job Quote... ?

Why the gaze of the little boy looking at the stained glass window...

Why the latinism...Grace. or would replacing it with "favor" been better for this day and p.c. age....

Why the blindspots with ignoring Malicks own words, his screenplay and vision as even here:

Young Jack: [voice over] Mother. Make me good. Brave.

i wonder is being good and brave now naive...

if so whats the alternative?

Films like Fight Club?

Tyler Durden: Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?

Edited by Jacques
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I'm not surprised, after all you've written about the film and its script and how prepared you were to not like it, that you didn't care for the film.

That's not true. I did care for the film quite a bit, even if I do think it is severely flawed. In fact, it's because the film is so often magnificent and brilliant--particularly during its impressionistic take on Jack's childhood--that the ending, which I'd argue doesn't work on any level at all, is such a bitter disappointment. It tarnishes what came before.

Re: the script, as I said, the film is often so substantially different that I'm not sure it helps inform discussion of the film. The film is really a different animal, even if it does share the same basic skeleton as the script.

Yeah, I see now that you were referring to the finale, and I was interpreting the comment to apply more broadly. My apologies. (I knew I should've stayed out of this thread. :) )

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I will finally get a chance to see this over on South Beach this weekend and can't wait to chime in on this discussion. I've deliberately avoided most of the dialogue here and in online reviews, like the plague and as a result know next to nothing about the film. I'm still debating about whether to bring my flask of scotch into the theater or not... and whether it will enhance or detract from the already trippy experience. Accepting advice on this...

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Pocahontas: [voiceover referring to John Rolfe] He is like a tree. He shelters me. I lie in his shade.*

Tell us then whats lazy or niavely idealogical about these words ...

She also says of John Smith "He is like a god" as she falls into his embrace. And then Smith betrays her, lies to her, breaks her heart.

The lines that she is thinking about John Rolfe show growth in her character.

Similarly, John Smith is dreaming of this "new world" in which they will make a new start, where everyone will be shown respect and grace, where there will never be theft or oppression... and as he is thinking those very thoughts, we see his men dragging around a native on a chain and stealing from an empty native camp.

In the Extended Cut, the interior monologues are even more starkly contrasted, inviting us to think about their various tensions.

Remember that she who has been crowned Lady Grace in Tree of Life actually strikes her husband in the face in her anger. And he who has been crowned Overlord of Nature is seen kneeling privately in the church and sombrely praying... as well as confessing and leaning toward forgiveness.

Grace and nature are forces in the film, or at least they are the descriptions of forces given to us by Mrs. O'Brien. I don't think we're meant to dismiss them, but I think we are meant to question them, to test them against the "evidence" given...

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Remember that she who has been crowned Lady Grace in Tree of Life actually strikes her husband in the face in her anger.

I don't know that this makes me think the mother fits the Lady Grace type any less. It's a rare outburst, but it's not a wrong outburst. Not really. And I wouldn't call what she does "striking" her husband in the face, anyway. It's not really a hit.

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.

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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.

I can agree with that (and said as much in part 2 of my review). I think it may be, though, that she seems this way because we're seeing her through the memory of a small child. (Or better, the adult Jack can only remember his mother's presence in the early days through the worshipful eyes of the child he was.) That justifies her Beatific presence in the film to me... but it doesn't make her any easier to believe. It doesn't solve the problem that she seems more angel than human.

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.

Whatever the case, I don't connect with her the way I did with Rebecca in The New World, or Abby or Linda in Days of Heaven.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I think it may be, though, that she seems this way because we're seeing her through the memory of a small child.

Sure. That said, my friends and I both agreed that the film's POV is sometimes pretty confusing. It sometimes seem to be playing out outside of Jack's mind.

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.

Good point. He gives the father figure plenty of wonderful shadings and touches (one of my favorite moments with the father was when he started playing piano accompaniment to the brother's guitar playing), but his mother is often little more than a pretty face.

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I think it may be, though, that she seems this way because we're seeing her through the memory of a small child.

Sure. That said, my friends and I both agreed that the film's POV is sometimes pretty confusing. It sometimes seem to be playing out outside of Jack's mind.

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.

Good point. He gives the father figure plenty of wonderful shadings and touches (one of my favorite moments with the father was when he started playing piano accompaniment to the brother's guitar playing), but his mother is often little more than a pretty face.

There are hints at her backstory (the opening scene of her on a farm, the airplane ride story she tells when asked "Tell us a story from before we can remember"). But there is no backstory on Jack's father, which is interesting.

I'll bet Malick filmed enough to consider giving us much fuller experiences of the father's and mother's interior lives. I'll bet he narrowed it to primarily focus on Jack's perspective in the final edit, leaving only momentary visitations to the parents' thoughts. Those visitations do create some POV confusion. I wonder if an extended cut will ever expand on their stories.

It's interesting that we're never given access to the POVs of Jack's brothers.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Remember that she who has been crowned Lady Grace in Tree of Life actually strikes her husband in the face in her anger.

I don't know that this makes me think the mother fits the Lady Grace type any less. It's a rare outburst, but it's not a wrong outburst. Not really. And I wouldn't call what she does "striking" her husband in the face, anyway. It's not really a hit.

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.

I saw this film last night and for the most part loved it.

One of the problems I had with her character was that she didn't get angry with the father more often. I mean the way he was treating those kids was, to me a form of abuse, that was

damaging them. She seemed to have seen this and therefore I would think should have taken more action to stop it. I don't really see my issue with her character as coming from a flaw in

the film though, as how she is handled brings up more questions about grace.

For example, afterwards I was wondering as to the functions of grace and when grace should be replaced by a painful but sometimes necessary corrective response. Maybe the word replaced isn't even appropriate,

as correcting his behaviour before it caused more damage could have been a merciful act. It would have stopped separation between him and the kids and maybe helped him to sort out his issues.

I haven't read most of this thread so I'm going to go back and look through it.

Another thing to say right now is after the film ended the theatre was profoundly quiet. Everybody was just sitting there in thought and leaving quietly. lt was evident that they had been impacted by

the film.

Edited by Attica
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Jeffrey O in #488 wrote

It's interesting that we're never given access to the POVs of Jack's brothers.

I recall theres a shot of Jack's fated brother looking at the stained Glass window of Jesus, the crown of thorns, would this not qualify?

Or is the shot then the brother...

p.s thanks for the response to my earlier post as well, Jeffrey appreciated the Chesterton vibe of the crowns! and putting on Grace

by U2 accordingly :D

Attica ty for sharing the response in the theatre,,, i love to watch people take in a film, a bit of Cinema Paradisio i guess....

your point here resonates, you wrote:

'For example, afterwards I was wondering as to the functions of grace and when grace should be replaced by a painful but sometimes necessary corrective response. Maybe the word replaced isn't even appropriate,as correcting his behaviour before it caused more damage could have been a merciful act. It would have stopped separation between him and the kids and maybe helped him to sort out his issues."

Troubled i was too, I read Flannery O'Connor's The Lame Shall Enter First ....it helped answer what you so astutely bring up, as do her other stories... and do also read Parkers Back where sacramental beholding (hat tip to Mleary, and HAns Urs Von Balthasar)...incarnational art and iconoclasm meet. This latter one, Parkers Back, remarkably raises similar issues in the 'howness' of responding to an artwork based on grace and the arc of its movement. It echoes some of the same dissonance as found here in response to Malicks Tree of LIfe as well. Where an art work should show and not tell...and the eyes of faith, that Jack in the Tree of Life recovers.

Edited by Jacques
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Looking over some past posts:

In a nutshell, I'm willing to go along with Malick -- the wandering, the associative editing, the music, the voiceovers -- in this film where I've been more skeptical in the past because he's finally broken off from narrative.

This comment doesn't make too much sense for me. THE TREE OF LIFE often employs an impressionistic style, favoring individual moments, but it's still expressing a narrative, and it's a narrative that, while fraught with some ambiguities, isn't entirely obtuse.

Not sure if this is a useful distinction to others, but to me the final sequence is a portrait of grace rather than of heaven.

I think this is true. But I don't think viewing it as a "portrait of grace" makes it anymore a successful development of the previous segments of the film than it would if it really was a portrait of heaven. In part, because of so many of the criticisms already mentioned by Koehler, et. al, but also because it fails to really resolve the cosmic nature of the story. If you're going to try and situate human suffering in a cosmic narrative, as Malick does here, you can't just give us a glimpse of the grand cosmic beginning. You have give us the cosmic end. And true, we get the demise of our planet, but what of the ultimate redemption? The 2007 script, while in many ways it's much weaker than what Malick gave us, at least took a stab at this, and in that early draft, Malick gives us the full future of humanity and cosmic redemption (including, incidentally, many moments that are direct citations of the Book of Revelation).

I kinda wish the film had ended on the field of sunflowers. I took it as Malick's personal answer to the question, "What is the most beautiful image imaginable?"

I thought it might end there, and in some ways, it would have been a stronger finale than what we got (though it certainly would have made all the Sean Penn stuff look even more extraneous had the film ended there). But I can't say I was crazy about the image.

Which reminds me of an earlier discussion in this thread: Tree of Life is certainly open-ended enough to be embraced by other faiths, but this is an explicitly Christian film.

I'll agree the film is significantly more Christian than I expected it to be after reading that early script--which, despite even heavier reliance on Christian imagery, isn't particularly Christian in its thematic development, and, as such, defines the ideas behind the "nature"/"grace" conflict differently than the final film does--and has stronger ties to Christianity than any other belief system. So I'll say it's as Christian as much of liberal Christianity manages to be. But like a lot of liberal Christianity, it marginalizes the importance of Christ, and I am dissatisfied with how the film suggests redemption history. THE TREE OF LIFE places the weight of God's response to suffering in God's imminence in nature (and as such, some, like Robert Koehler, right or wrongly, have understood Malick's POV as Pantheistic). Indeed, in the way Malick builds his cosmic history, there does not even seem to be a moment or acknowledgment of cosmic catastrophe. Instead, these categories of "grace" and "nature" are perpetually at play, and God is perpetually working through them in the constant, ever-unfolding evolutionary history of the universe.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Nice thoughts, Ryan, although I'm uncomfortable -- even as a hardcore Reformed guy -- calling this film's Christianity "liberal." I don't think it's interested at all in those categories. Perhaps, in its avoidance of dealing directly with the atonement and the work of Christ, it might come across as a Christ-less sermon, which has characterized some liberal Christianity, but it wrestles far too much with sin -- something that liberal Christianity struggles, or outright fails, to engage with -- to come across, to my eyes, as "liberal" in its theology. Maybe that's just me.

To any and all, I have this fundamental question. What is the title referring to? This is not a trick question. I thought I knew what Malick was referencing, but yesterday, during Bible reading (HINT: I'm in Proverbs!), I was reminded that the term appears in places in Scripture that I hadn't remembered. I don't know if Malick's script details his intentions about the title. Anyone heard? Seems like an obvious question, but I don't know the answer.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Nice thoughts, Ryan, although I'm uncomfortable -- even as a hardcore Reformed guy -- calling this film's Christianity "liberal."

If you look carefully I didn't, actually, call its Christianity "liberal." Rather, I said it was "as Christian as much of liberal Christianity manages to be," which isn't exactly saying the same thing. At least as far as I'm concerned, anyway.

To any and all, I have this fundamental question. What is the title referring to? This is not a trick question. I thought I knew what Malick was referencing, but yesterday, during Bible reading (HINT: I'm in Proverbs!), I was reminded that the term appears in places in Scripture that I hadn't remembered. I don't know if Malick's script details his intentions about the title. Anyone heard? Seems like an obvious question, but I don't know the answer.

FWIW, the script ended with a literal image of a tree as an attempt at creating a metaphor for what Malick described there as "the eternal." But I'm not sure what the title means in light of the finished film.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Walking in and Walking Right Back Out of ‘The Tree of Life’ by way the New York TImes

reading the posts are good too.... a play of voices one part Under Milkwood meets Wilder's Our Town, equaling aesthetic arrest.

And for any who might be interested, re. said referent Tree of Life, you might like this article of its use in scripture

The Tree of Life: Protological to Eschatological

i only mention this because of Melville pencil markings in his own bible at Isaiah 27:1

I wonder now of the markings in Malick's Holy Bible as well.

And what of the Sunflowers frame in the film? eye myself thought John12:24 that and Van Gogh another image maker whose faith and sufferings as a failed pastor turned artist resonates, I can only wonder. and to some, i know such comparisons are a stretch....

And speaking of suffering, trees, wood, the scene with Jack handing the small wood plank that really was memorable for where did that wood come from...then the scenes with the lamp socket, the bb gun... if not here then why include, all especially in light of the pov shot of this same brother looking at the face of Christ there in that mosaic of stained glass-ecce homo.

Edited by Jacques
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OK, I finally got a chance to see the movie today, in this low-brow city where arthouse films fear to tread. It was a matinee show, and typically for this type of flick in Miami, you can expect the the theater to be empty. I was shocked however, to find the place more than half-filled!

I loved the movie and need to meditate on it more before chiming in here, but it felt to me like the most "pure" Malick. His last two films in particular, struggle-- in varying degrees and with different measures of success-- with the restraints of conventional narrative and Tree of Life feels like he's finally hacked himself free ala Coltrane's Ascension. The result is a undeniably unwieldy and elusive, but it strikes full bore in the areas he merely leaned on with Thin Red Line and New World.

So... a couple things happened during my viewing that have never happened to me at a movie theater. (Seasoned critics will have to bare with me, because I only see about 5 - 10 movies a year at the theater) The audience was remarkably attentive throughout. There was a noted lack of fidgeting and noise-making, which was a real blessing because there are so many hushed, and quietly evocative moments in the movie that could've been destroyed by a typical rude Miami audiences. BUT, at the final scene with Malick's repeating mysterious "northern lights" motif-- with the fading echo of a gull panning across the theater-- a woman in the back YELLED out "A DIOS MIO!!!"(Oh my God) And with that descended an avalanche of jeers, yells, boos, laughs and profanity. One gentleman bellowed "Holy sh_t! I kept waiting for the punchline" I've seen a lot of crappy movies, especially with my kids...I'm thinking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and others too horrid to remember, and I've never experienced that kind of visceral response in a theater. I had tears in my eyes at the close and then after the jeers did something I've never done in a theater-- I stood up, faced the audience and yelled "You folks should see some of his other movies before you judge!"... Kinda lame in retrospect, and I was a bit disoriented from the film, but I would've felt like a pus if I hadnt made some kind of public statement.

And now I can begin the task of combing thru the 25 pages in this thread!

PS) The only genuine letdown with the film for me was Desplant's score. As someone with a religious devotion to Zimmer's TTRL score, I found the music underwhelming and bland in spots. Of course there are those big choir moments, and they're suitably moving... it's just I can't recall a single sequence or moment apart from those, when the score hit me in the gut like Zimmer's did.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I've never experienced that kind of visceral response in a theater. I had tears in my eyes at the close and then after the jeers did something I've never done in a theater-- I stood up, faced the audience and yelled "You folks should see some of his other movies before you judge!"... Kinda lame in retrospect, and I was a bit disoriented from the film, but I would've felt like a pus if I hadnt made some kind of public statement.

Bravo!

"So shines a good deed in a weary world" to quote the Wonka...

No its not lame... its true, and all Philippians 4:8 baby... HUGE and i say again bravo, I'd buy you a beer but i can only type this, Yes..this was your Yawp- your courage, you stood on the desk and said my captain. my captain!

Whats better- is this is real !

Real and in common as Bukowsi looking at a snarling dog and saying "ohhh beautiful" real as saying susan sontag is self indulgent crap by way of Bull Durham...real as an Al Pacino rant about the rat ship of acedia and the status quo in Scent of a Woman.

But whats better you were moved by a work of art and fortified by it...and that experience is yours that no critic professional or misguided soul or bore can squash with correction, dismissal or sarcasm.

And for that i raise my glass, cheers Greg and know this thats the stuff of legend and be sure of this ,as one of my Uncles told me. "your now a part of their memory, and their tell there grand-kids, their lovers, their friends about you.. one who stood up in a theatre and pushed back..

Now on to Coltrane, what a fantastic analogy.

Edited by Jacques
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So... a couple things happened during my viewing that have never happened to me at a movie theater. (Seasoned critics will have to bare with me, because I only see about 5 - 10 movies a year at the theater) The audience was remarkably attentive throughout. There was a noted lack of fidgeting and noise-making, which was a real blessing because there are so many hushed, and quietly evocative moments in the movie that could've been destroyed by a typical rude Miami audiences. BUT, at the final scene with Malick's repeating mysterious "northern lights" motif-- with the fading echo of a gull panning across the theater-- a woman in the back YELLED out "A DIOS MIO!!!"(Oh my God) And with that descended an avalanche of jeers, yells, boos, laughs and profanity. One gentleman bellowed "Holy sh_t! I kept waiting for the punchline" I've seen a lot of crappy movies, especially with my kids...I'm thinking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and others too horrid to remember, and I've never experienced that kind of visceral response in a theater. I had tears in my eyes at the close and then after the jeers did something I've never done in a theater-- I stood up, faced the audience and yelled "You folks should see some of his other movies before you judge!"... Kinda lame in retrospect, and I was a bit disoriented from the film, but I would've felt like a pus if I hadnt made some kind of public statement.

And this seems like a perfect place to post this little story I heard Thursday on NPR...

Love It Or Hate It: Few Are In Between About 'Tree Of Life'

(Jesse) Hassinger, who loves Tree of Life, works for a theater that will give refunds or complimentary passes to a future movie if you leave in the first 20 minutes or so. Other theaters, including the Avon in Stamford, Conn., have no-refund policies — and the Avon has even put up signs telling Tree of Life ticket-buyers that it is "a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director ... [that] does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling."

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Thanks Jacques!

I will undoubtedly see this movie again and given the long holiday weekend, might do so again on Monday. Right now, from an emotional perspective I'm putting it right behind TTRL on my Malick list.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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PS) The only genuine letdown with the film for me was Desplant's score. As someone with a religious devotion to Zimmer's TTRL score, I found the music underwhelming and bland in spots. Of course there are those big choir moments, and they're suitably moving... it's just I can't recall a single sequence or moment apart from those, when the score hit me in the gut like Zimmer's did.

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).

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