Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity

The Tree of Life
2011.  138 minutes. USA. Directed by Terrence Malick. Watchdate: 8/15/2011.
This movie is the most conspicuously arty movie I have watched since Wings of Desire. It left me feeling conflicted. I want to call it pretentious garbage, but I got too caught up in it and found it too emotionally and intellectually stimulating to really believe that it's that. No doubt it is pretentious, and finds itself more profound than it actually is, but as with Wings of Desire I admire rather than ridicule its soaring ambition.

I found both the second section and the third section of the movie to be superb. The second section is a journey through space and time to discover the origin of life and rhythms of birth and death. This section is packed with great images. On that basis alone, I rate it highly but I also like that it connects human tragedy to the larger canvas of the cosmos. As portentous as it is, I wish more storytellers were daring enough to make that leap from the concerns of humans to the larger processes of the universe. The third section is the most straightforward part of the movie, essentially a domestic drama about growing up. It imbued me with  nostalgia but also made me feel and think deeply about my childhood and early adolscence.

I save my sharpest criticisms for the beginning and ending sections. I understand what Malick was trying to accomplish here, but it just didn't always work so well for me. There are some poignant moments and images, but the fractured nature of the sequences did not do for me what i think he intended. This is where the pretentiousness and the artiness was least worthwhile or interesting and most noisome.

With a bit of judicious editing the movie may have been one of my favorite movies rather than (merely) a deeply flawed masterpiece. And there are also some interesting parallels between this movie and the documentary Nostalgia for the Light, on which I hope to expound on a future date.

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