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Saturday 8 October 2011

Burl reviews The Tree of Life! (2011)

Hi, it’s Burl here with a review of the latest picture from that old rascal Terrence Malick! The Tree of Life seems pretty autobiographical to me, it being largely the story of a mom-dad-and-three-boy family in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s, coming of age in more or less the same time and place as Malick himself! Ha ha, it’s an unexpected bit of emotional exhibitionism from a notoriously publicity-shy filmmaker!

And there’s dinosaurs in it! Let me back up a bit: the movie opens with fragmentary bits and pieces set after the main action, and shows the parents receiving the sad news that one of their lads has perished! They’ve previously held to a simple and benign belief in God and His Love, and though they’ve been given hints of His Hands-Off Approach before, they now begin, through whispered scraps of narration, to openly question His Plan, or if there even is One!

You know how a movie scene will start with a close-up shot and then pull back to give context and perspective by showing the wider view? Ha ha, that’s what Malick does here: he pulls back, way back, to the very beginning of time and space; but the idea is the same – here’s a wider view, he’s telling us; study it, ponder it and take from it what you may! That’s when we get a series of gorgeous special effects courtesy of the old master Douglas Trumbull, whose magical slit-scan opticals graced such pictures as 2001: A Space Odyssey (a very similar picture to this one), Blade Runner, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

The wide, wide perspectives provided by these scenes are nicely complimented by a sense of minute detail – production designer Jack Fisk (the husband of Sissy Spacek and a buddy to David Lynch, in case you were interested) takes very good care with, for example, the fabric used for curtains, so that Malick can move into close-ups of his characters fondling them thoughtfully! This Blakeian approach – “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour“ – serves the film’s themes very well! But these are no auguries of innocence – ha ha, more like auguries of innocence lost!

The movie is filled with extraordinary images, some of them simple and homely, and others strange and magical, like the tall man in the attic room or the mother spinning in ecstatic midair whirlygigs at the base of a magnificent tree! The signature Malick shots of such things as a hand caressing long grasses or a woman on a swing make their appearances, of course, and there's a repeated shot of a waterfall that's a real stunner!

In the screening I was at, the audience kept a respectful silence through the movie’s 138 minutes, but the moment it was over, a lady spoke up: “I want my money back!” she cried in an unpleasant voice! Ha ha, what did you think you were coming to see, lady? A Brad Pitt drama-movie, I guess! She might have learned her lesson after The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford!

Several times during the movie I became amazed that it had even been made! How unusual for such big money to be poured into an experimental art film, and then for that film to be playing in a movie theatre at the height of the summer explosion-movie blockbuster season! Ha ha, how delightful and wonderfully strange! It’s a bit of a mind-blower, this movie, though not perfect – it gets a bit too huggy at the end for ol’ Burl, as though hugs were the only recourse for people tormented by existential angst and crises of faith! It’s a bit like seeing the most wonderful car in the world pass by and then noticing a bumper sticker with a cheap homily plastered on the back of it! Nevertheless, you won’t see another movie like The Tree of Life all this summer, I predict, unless of course you go to see The Tree of Life a second time!

I give the movie four solid high-n’-tights, and an extra ha ha for the marvelous performances, especially that of the middle brother! He was great! Anyway, this movie comes altogether recommended by your pal Burl!

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