Tree of Life

June 19, 2011 9 Comments

Terrance Mallick’s long awaited and highly praised film “Tree of Life”  received the coveted “Palme d”Or” at this year’s Cannes Festival…and it was booed.   This is not a “typical” movie.  It’s ponderous style, ranging from the beginning of time to sometime in the present has been called breathtaking…..and pretentious.  Brad Pitt’s portrayal of a disenchanted and harsh 1950’s father trying to spare his three sons the pain of repeating  his own failures weaves its way visually, moving many emotionally….and leaving some shrugging with detachment.  Much of the dialogue is spoken in hushed tones (whispers, really) which creates a sense of spirituality for some…and annoyance for others.  The themes of grace and the meaning of life are offered in broad tones and personal tragedy(as one of the brothers dies at age 19), sometimes through the tired eyes of Sean Penn(the grown up oldest son).    Is it glorious and bravely profound….or preachy?  The seemingly unapologetic religious reunion at the close of the film inspires some….and leaves others wondering if Mallick is taking the “easier way out”.   Is this the kind of film that separates the  “big film guys” from those who cannot handle nuance and slow paced genius?  Mallick has certainly created his film world and invited us to inhabit it with him for just under two and a half hours.  What we do with the experience may depend alot on what we bring to the film and where we are comfortable going…..or our uneasiness about not quite “getting” a movie that everyone else seems to find sublime….Either way, it’s a “must see movie”…..by Jolyn Wagner

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9 Comments to “Tree of Life”
  1. stuart sinai says:

    It seem incongrueous that Penn was the eldest boy. There was absolutely no facial similarities nor were there glimpses of a man who had been earlier humiliated, emasculated, demeaned, rejected by his father. In fact I think (I don’t care what Mallick says or even the storyline of the tortuous script) the boy who died was Jack. He became antisocial, violent, rebellious and I’m sure he was the one who died, no doubtedly in prison. In my view of the world, Sean Penn was the middle son (altho I must admit the age of the deceased would not tie up with the age of Penn’ character).
    Look forward to seeing you at our next meeting. Stuart.

  2. Dave Lundin says:

    My thought about “Tree of Life” is that it is both pretentious and magnificant in turns. Mallick is trying for a lot, the meaning of life, which I always admire, and the visuals are spellbinding. However, how does the somewhat mysterious storyline (Who died? How? Who was Sean Penn’s character?)tie to the meaning of life? Is it death that puts us in touch with the meaning of life? I found myself both restless and intrigued in turns, but also confused and put off as well at times. I still don’t know what the meaning of life is I guess. Any help with that would be much appreciated.

  3. jwwmo4 says:

    Interesting idea about the identity of the dead son…it never is spelled out exactly, but my impression was that Jack had honed his survival skills and become the (albeit depressed and weary) success that his father never was…that the sensitive middle brother was too full of “grace” to survive in the bad old world.and subsequently had to die..was the telegram suggestive of a military death ie Vietnam?….but I agree that much is left to impression….were you moved by the seaside reunion?

  4. jwwmo4 says:

    maybe this film did not intend to provide the answer to the question of the meaning of life, but instead create a kind of tone poem spanning the course of time to allow us to feel rather than know…does that make any sense at all?

  5. Bruce Russell says:

    I think that most questions that sound profound sound that way because it is not clear what they are asking. That’s true of the question, “What is the meaning of life?” It might be taken to mean, “What is the purpose of life?” If you are an atheist and don’t believe in an after life, the answer will be that life has no purpose. It might also be taken to mean, “What makes life worth living?”, and life might be worth living even if it has no extrinsic purpose. How about this as the answer to “What makes life worth living?: fulfilling work and meaningful and satisfying personal relations, where that work and those relations result in happiness?

  6. Bruce Russell says:

    Many questions that sound profound sound that way because it is not clear what they are asking. The question, “What is the meaning of life?” falls in that category. It might mean, “What is the purpose of life?” If you believe in God and an afterlife, the answer might be that life is a kind of test to determine whether people are worthy of eternal blessedness in union with God. If you are an atheist and don’t believe in an afterlife, the answer will be that life has no purpose. It is not a means or a way to reach some goal. However, it does not follow that then life cannot be worth living. Suppose that a second interpretation of, “What is the meaning of life?” takes it to be equivalent to the question, “What makes life worth living?” A plausible answer to that question is: fulfilling work and meaningful and satisfying personal relations that bring happiness. That seems to be a good answer to the second interpretation even if life has no extrinsic purpose or goal.

  7. jwwmo4 says:

    Is this a film that indeed asks and then answers for us what the meaning of (a good) life should be? Is Mallick making good use of his philosopher chops in the way he designs his film to address his questions(if that is what he is attempting? How interesting that he has such a philosophy background…is it evident in the film? Is that why the questions seem more basic than original? Themes seem to take priority over narrative or character development, to be sure. Maybe this explains it, as well as the use of cosmic nebulae and dinosaurs…..

  8. Bruce Russell says:

    The universe is a vast, mysterious, awe-inspiring place presided over by a loving God. That, I believe, is the view of the world that Malick tries to portray, or depict, rather than state, in Tree of Life. How did the universe begin? Why were there dinosaurs and why did they go extinct? How can a loving God allow a child or a young man to die when their whole life was ahead of them? How can a quiet moment between brothers change a boy’s heart when that boy seemed headed down the wrong path? How can the loss of a job, and his worldly dreams, soften the heart of an ambitious, stern, and mature man rather than embittering him? These are all mysteries, but we know that if there is a loving God, it must all turn out well in the end. And it does in Tree of Life with a loving reunion of all on a beautiful sun-drenched beach.
    This is not a vision of the cosmos I share, for the so-called mystery of a loving God who allows innocent children to die is also called the problem of evil, which, I believe, is a problem that makes belief in such a God unreasonable. And Malick, who graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy in 1965 and then went to Oxford before giving up philosophy to become a filmmaker, also may not accept the vision of the world he portrays in Tree of Life. But it is a vision widely held by religious people. To give a balanced view of the way things are, Malick would have had to show more suffering, death, and destruction, but a film is not a philosophical argument.
    By the way, in the reunion seen Sean Penn must represent the oldest son because the two younger sons are represented by the actors who portrayed them and the actor who portrayed the oldest son is absent. So by elimination, Sean Penn must represent the oldest son. Why didn’t Malick choose a young actor that looked more like Penn, or vice versa? Perhaps Penn is also supposed to represent Everyman, and so there is reason to choose someone who looks different from the oldest son when he was young. The eldest son was on the wrong path, but he did have a change of heart, and his father became a more loving person, so there is no reason to think he ended up in prison.
    Did Malick make good use of his philosopher chops? Well, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy, and I think Tree of Life is a very metaphysical movie. However, argument and evidence are central to philosophy, and they are not part of this film. It’s hard to be a philosopher while being a filmmaker, though philosophy will make you well aware of the various possible world views you may wish to portray.

  9. Bruce Russell says:

    Oops! “the reunion SCENE”(not “seen”)

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