The Tree of Life is a huge and encompassing movie. It can be exploring the cosmos at one moment and the next it can be in the mind of a ten-year-old boy. This is truly a Terrence Malick film so you know what to expect; slow and steady pacing, long and thoughtful inner monologues, and of course shots of nature in all of its beauty. Malick doesn’t shy away from his patent narrative style, which worked so well with his other films. There is so much beauty in this film and some moments of true enlightenment but like most Malick films that I have seen, it left me feeling like I had watched something that was unfocused and going in a million directions.
I love Malick’s ambition and because of that ambition his films are exciting and refreshing. Tree of Life is his most ambitious film probably because this is completely his work. Nothing is left uncalculated and each scene flows into the next making it a very seamless movie. Like most Malick films, almost all of our main characters get their own inner monologue where they talk about their hopes and fears. Questions of existence and of love overlap scenes of playful summers and quiet family dinners. Malick uses his characters inner thoughts to convey about half of what he is trying to tell his audience and uses images to explain the other half which gives the film a very romantic feel to it. I love how some of the inner monologues and images just seem to fit and give scenes a flow that almost feels euphoric. But these inner monologues overstay there welcome and become almost annoying towards the end.
Malick doesn’t compromise and he should be commended for that but the film is constantly going in a thousand directions and nothing seems to get its due. The last 45 mintutes of the film drags and its not because it isn’t interesting or less thought provoking but it becomes repetitive and almost feels stalled at moments. I love movies that try to show the stillness of life but those last 45 minutes creates a childhood that is less and less interesting as Malick tries to create space and time for his characters to grow and interact. He muddles around with his characters going here and there and touching on his themes but I found myself lost in those quiet and precise scenes.
All of that can be forgiven merely for Malick’s version of the creation of the universe. These are some of the most amazing visuals I have ever seen in any film and the way that Malick creates a sense of time and space is just amazing. Watching the universe begin and seeing the earth slowly start to resemble what it is today is just beautiful. An overwhelming sense of owe and wonder came over me while watching these scenes and it’s easy to say that these are some of the best scenes of space ever put on celluloid.
For all of my complaints of Malick’s narrative style, his movies tend to stay with you. After a day I can still remember moments, glances, and gestures throughout the film and I can’t seem to shake The Tree of Life from my mind. It is an elegant film that flows much like a river into what we can’t be certain of. Many people will say that this film isn’t about answering questions but I beg to differ. The self-indulgent conclusion gives us what can only be presumed as Malick’s vision of the after-life. It is a very hopeful thought where everything comes together and all around you is a sense of comfort and belonging. It’s a very human thing to do to imagine what comes next after death. We make are own image of what eternal grace and happiness will be. Some people see themselves in a place being surrounded by their loved ones or of a place of complete and utter understanding. But as humans we rarely ask why we deserve the place that we have built in are minds. Malick, like most people, has built a heaven for himself and his characters and it is a place where love is met with glances and smiles. Humans build worlds, events, and people all around them. They judge and give themselves answers because they have too. Malick may seem like an enlightened being but he is no different from you and me, dreaming and believing in the best cause what’s the alternative? Why does a father who seems to only display discipline and fleeting moments of love deserve such a blissful existence? Out of all of the questions in the film about God, nobody ever asks why we deserve him. Why he could love us unconditionally when we do wrong, why does he still believe in us?
Even though people may want to say that they are the be all end all of film criticism, it is a truth that film criticism will always be subject to are own subjective views. I might just not understand Malick’s films or love them the way that I should but in each film there is an underlying beauty that has haunted me. It is the quiet of his films where his characters seem to be helpless to the bounds of nature and uncertainty. I have only seen the film once and I know that that is probably not enough but I find that I don’t want to see it again. Sad to say I was bored by the film. I wish that I could feel like the Tree of Life hit a cord with me and it does at times but I felt like I misunderstood the film. If you loved Malick’s earlier films you will undoubtedly love this and maybe that was my downfall. Although I can’t say I love it, The Tree of Life is the type of film that helps move the art form along. They help to evolve what film and stories can do and give rise to new thoughts and ideas. There is something moving about Malick’s heaven, which I can feel but can’t comprehend. I hope one day I can.