Best of… Series – 2011 – The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

A man lives in a sterile home with white walls and crisp lines and angles. He travels to work, dwarfed by skyscrapers with never ending elevators leading to a stale group of desks and offices. From here he thinks back on his childhood, recalling fragmented memories – both memories of events, memories of thoughts, and memories of imaginations. And this is where Terrence Malick takes his next step into the abstract and personal way of storytelling. In The New World he dabbled in the surreal, dipping his toes in the idea of fragmented memory while still mixing it with the setting’s present day reality and a standard narrative. But with The Tree of Life, the meat of the film is one uninterrupted childhood memory – a man recalling the moments of his life that stand out to him on a day when he is remembering the death of his brother.

 

We see moments grace and nature (the major themes of the film), love and hate, innocence and maturation. We see the imaginations of the boy’s mother gracefully floating and later encased in a glass coffin. We hear the thoughts of the boy as he talks to God, asking hard questions, working out his relationship with Him, his father, and his mother. Malick brings together a whirlwind of beauty, both in pictures and emotions, using stark and sad memories as well as peaceful and loving ones.

 

Malick dives even further into his visions of grandeur in the films’ bookends. At the start, we are introduced to the scenario and the O’Brien family, but the next 20 minutes are then spent on the creation and evolution of the universe. While it is definitely full of breathtaking images, after seeing the film twice, I still don’t think its placement is fitting. I understand what Malick was aiming for, but I think it’s a bit too ambitious. Similarly, the film ends on an equally grand note, but the biggest difference is that it still centers around the O’Brien family, their emotions, and their losses. I’m not pretending at this point to understand the last 15 minutes, but it is such a beautifully handled sequence that I still found myself amazed with it. The last image harkens back to the start with the boy, grown, surrounded by buildings, but with a subtle yet powerful change in demeanor that punctuates the film perfectly.

Overall, I feel like this is Malick’s most flawed film, but at the same time parts of it are his best. It is most definitely beautiful and purely poetic, and was probably worth spending the last three years or so obsessively awaiting its arrival.  9.5/10

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2 Responses to “Best of… Series – 2011 – The Tree of Life”

  1. johnfilmreviews Says:

    Glad it (mostly) lived up to the hype for you! If it weren’t for the creation scene and a couple other brief moments that don’t seem to fit, I would maybe call this the best movie I’ve ever seen. The beauty and power of it is staggering at times.

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