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The Tree of Life: Post Release

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

http://www.chud.com/community/forum/thread/88746/tree-of-life-pre-release-discussion

 

That there is the pre-release thread.

 

It's been on general release over here for the majority of the week so I assume it's opening up all over the place. To preface this is the year that I really got into Malick. Since January I've seen Badlands, Days of Heaven, A New World and The Thin Red Line and adored them all (The Thin Red Line, less that the others) largely because the trailer for The Tree of Life excited me so.

 

Usually I'm quite happy to waffle on about a movie and drop stupid analysis like no ones business, but this film just genuinely floored me. I'm not a man of faith, at all, but there's something about this film which is just amazingly spiritual. It reminds me a lot of The Last Temptation of Christ in how it serves as both an analysis of religion but also as a spiritual experience all of its own.  I love the central conceit of God filtered through the eyes of a child and represented by the two parents. There's something about the continual soul searching in the film which is deeply affecting.

 

It's also an amazing use of subjective story telling, with the majority of the story told from the perception of Jack as a youngster. This subjective approach is fantastic and it helps to make the core conflict of the film really resonate. A lot of Malick's films tend to focus on the nature of man and man's place in nature. This film muses on this subject by having mother and father represent different ideologies. The father is a man bound by social constructs and tormented by his own failures, a person shaped by his nature. The mother describes her nature as being of the way of grace and she exists in the world almost free of those social constraints. Her world is blinkered, inward, and unsullied by external factors whilst the father is paralysed by the reaction of others. The children naturally side with the mother and as such we're presented with a very skewed vision of the father and the mother, with the mother being an almost divine force whilst the father is a constant reminder of the everyday.

 

The film sees to have the view that both ethoses are flawed, that both need to be in place to counteract each other. Whilst the father is portrayed as brutish and deeply resentful, the film shows that the mother isn't a parental figure with control over her children when the father isn't there. He's essentially a neccesary evil due to the mothers ideology, however because we're getting the film from the persepective of a child he's rendered almost monstrous and the mother almost angelic.

 

My only real complaint about the film are two specific moments where I think the film loses sight of itself. The first is the short section featuring dinosaurs. It's part of a grand sequence showing the formation of the world and most of it is framed as a 'call and response' to the narration, the dinosaur section however doesn't have any narration to frame it and as such it feels kind of untethered from the rest of the film. It's also kind of odd because the dinosaurs are literally in two sequences and one of them seems to be there purely to reinforce the Nature vs. Grace ideology. I also think the film perhaps ends a few too many times, with the metaphysics of the finale getting a tad too much. Conceptually they're fine, but it's just exhausting having these natural end points and then there being yet more of the film.

 

Malick's eye is amazing, his framing and composition and the way he delivers information visually are just astounding. There are a few 'Malick Moments' which feel like broad parodies of a Malick movie, constant cutaways to waterfalls and leaves which are effective 95% of the time but across a little schticky that other 5%. The score is amazing though, the use of Smetana's Ma Vlast is amazing and Deplat's score is gorgeous. Really can't wait to get a copy of it.

 

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are great for different reasons. Pitt manages to find a lot of humanity in a character who is rendered monstrous by the subjective point of view, whilst Chastain manages to make the dialogue absolutely sing. A don't think many other actors could make Malick's dialogue work nearly as well as Chastian does.

 

The film does seem to be divisive though. I caught the film at a midday showing at my local arthouse cinema and there were about six or seven walkouts in the first half hour.

post #2 of 22

Just like with Enter The Void, which I feel is on the exact opposing side of the thematic spectrum from this flick while using many of the same tools, I feel like I need to see this a hell of a lot more times before I can really process how I felt about it. Having said that, the craft on display, and Malick's usual sense of minute wonder are just breathtaking, and the film's worthwhile for just that alone.

post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 

One thing I have been mulling over is Malick's use of metaphorical imagery. Malick's always been a lyrical director, but he's generally never shot constructed images like he does in this. His cutaways have always been to existing things. In this film he really lets loose with the metaphorical imagery and some of it is great and really gets into that childs mind mentality. I love the moment before Jack is born, where essentially you see Jack and a whole bunch of kids (potential versions of Jack?) being led by their mother and then Jack swimming up through the water and through a doorway.

post #4 of 22

Stanley Kubrick's ghost! Just finished watching this & I gotta say: it's a genuine masterpiece. Many of my thoughts have already been properly articulated by Spike but I'll go a step further & say that it's probably the best film I've seen this year. It's so hypnotic that half the time you'd swear that you were dreaming the bloody thing.

 

The film really comes across as being Malick's master thesis & The New World, Thin Red Line, even Days Of Heaven kinda feel like meager warm up exercises, comparatively.

There are a number of shots in those films that feel like an egregiously lame attempt at visual poetry & I was really surprised how well Malick's ridiculously long thematic reach was matched by his grasp. He also seemed to be working overtime to communicate something truly universal & I didn't get any whiff of "look at how many leather bound books I own" pretension.

 

I'm still kind of reeling from the experience & am still digesting the film but, goddamn, what a feat.

post #5 of 22

Watched it for the first time on blu yesterday. As mentioned, visually, it's Malick's usual mastery of framing, movement, and content. The film has more gorgeous shots than a year of mainstream releases. I thought the performances were strong, especially given how little actual dialogue there is, and how elliptical many of the voiceovers are. The boy playing Jack as a 12 year old was damn amazing; his face conveyed so much - hating and loving his father, becoming his father as he interacted with his brothers, struggling with the resentment and anger inside himself. I think Penn was sort of wasted; nothing in his role required substantial emoting or conveying a lot to the camera. He did a lot of running and blank looks, but adult Jack was pretty empty.

 

And I'll admit the last 20 minutes or so were a bit much for me; I felt like Malick stepped from genuine art and visual metaphors to cheesy, affected attempts at depth. The domino mask falling through the water was a good example; masks aren't visually referenced in the film at all before then, and it just felt tacked on, and forced. The repetition of gates is a good counterpoint; Malick constantly uses them to say something to the viewer, so the use of them in the final montage doesn't feel forced or out of left field. (Other than as general metaphors for life stages, I have no idea what the gates were supposed to mean.)

 

I also was left puzzling what was the point of having an adult Jack in at all. At first, I thought maybe there might be a catalyst event, such as his father or mother dying, but he spoke to his father on the phone, and there weren't any helpful clues about his mother's status during the adult Jack sequences. Giving the film a harder bookend would've helped it, IMNSHO, because as it was, it was too free flowing and seemed pointless.

 

Maybe that was the point, but that also seemed to work against the deeper spiritual elements of the film.

 

The scene of the plesiosaur on the beach was flat out breathtaking; the combination of light, seamless CGI, and camera work was staggering. 

 

Not wagging a finger here, but I am surprised there isn't more discussion on this film. It certainly merits a good conversation, especially the recurring visual motifs and the theme of nature vs grace. 

post #6 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post


And I'll admit the last 20 minutes or so were a bit much for me; I felt like Malick stepped from genuine art and visual metaphors to cheesy, affected attempts at depth. The domino mask falling through the water was a good example; masks aren't visually referenced in the film at all before then, and it just felt tacked on, and forced. The repetition of gates is a good counterpoint; Malick constantly uses them to say something to the viewer, so the use of them in the final montage doesn't feel forced or out of left field. (Other than as general metaphors for life stages, I have no idea what the gates were supposed to mean.)

 

I also was left puzzling what was the point of having an adult Jack in at all. At first, I thought maybe there might be a catalyst event, such as his father or mother dying, but he spoke to his father on the phone, and there weren't any helpful clues about his mother's status during the adult Jack sequences. Giving the film a harder bookend would've helped it, IMNSHO, because as it was, it was too free flowing and seemed pointless.

 

Gotta agree here. The only benefit of Penn's presence was that his sequences seemed to let the movie breath a little to let us digest the emotional rollercoaster of the childhood scenes.

 

In retrospect, the "Heaven" sequence, while emotionally effective certainly, is when the film went from artsy to fartsy. The what-seemed-like-5-minutes shot featuring the "Angels" playing "Pretty Hands" was an embarrassing attempt at visual poetry but it was completely hollow. Still, the film's final image of the "essence of God/Life/Love/Whatever" is so powerful that it more than makes up for the previous 10 minutes.

post #7 of 22

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Art Decade View Post

 

Gotta agree here. The only benefit of Penn's presence was that his sequences seemed to let the movie breath a little to let us digest the emotional rollercoaster of the childhood scenes.

 

In retrospect, the "Heaven" sequence, while emotionally effective certainly, is when the film went from artsy to fartsy. The what-seemed-like-5-minutes shot featuring the "Angels" playing "Pretty Hands" was an embarrassing attempt at visual poetry but it was completely hollow. Still, the film's final image of the "essence of God/Life/Love/Whatever" is so powerful that it more than makes up for the previous 10 minutes.


I'm feeling fairly dumb, as I didn't even get that it was meant to represent heaven. I understood it was about closure or catharsis, given the presence of people who were dead (but then again, his father was there, and the cell phone call established his father was still living).

 

And did I understand correctly that we saw the end of the solar system, with the sun flaring out, burning up the earth, and then the earth frozen in the light of the milky way?

 

post #8 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post

And did I understand correctly that we saw the end of the solar system, with the sun flaring out, burning up the earth, and then the earth frozen in the light of the milky way?


Damn, I really can't recall. I just remember the "Angels" sequence & the "God essence" image at the end.

post #9 of 22

An interesting interpretation or view of the film. It's from a Christian/Catholic viewpoint, so if that sort of thing ain't your bag, be forewarned.

 

post #10 of 22

I'm listening to his thoughts on Rise of the Planet of the Apes now. 

post #11 of 22

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post

An interesting interpretation or view of the film. It's from a Christian/Catholic viewpoint, so if that sort of thing ain't your bag, be forewarned.

 

 

Well arguably Malick and the movie itself is coming from a Christian viewpoint, so the thoughts of a guy who knows the subject inside out are pretty pertinent even if it's not your bag. Not being religious I drew slightly different conclusions from the movie, but this guy makes a good case.

 

Also, at the risk of sounding patronising, I wish guys like this were the public faces and voices of religion as opposed to... certain others.

post #12 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

Also, at the risk of sounding patronising, I wish guys like this were the public faces and voices of religion as opposed to... certain others.


Same thought crossed my mind.

 

I've been watching his thoughts on films all morning. 

 

He LOVES the Coen Bros.

 

post #13 of 22

Quote:

Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

 

 

Well arguably Malick and the movie itself is coming from a Christian viewpoint, so the thoughts of a guy who knows the subject inside out are pretty pertinent even if it's not your bag. Not being religious I drew slightly different conclusions from the movie, but this guy makes a good case.

 

Also, at the risk of sounding patronising, I wish guys like this were the public faces and voices of religion as opposed to... certain others.


IMO, Malick's POV seems to be more that of an inquisitive observer of the phenomenon of life than someone with a definite viewpoint. In the case of Tree Of Life, I think he's laid his observations all out & is leaving it up to the audience to come to some cathartic conclusion. In the case of an Agnostic like myself, I placed a "question mark" at the end of Malick's open statement. Conversely, the wise gentleman in the youtube video seems to have placed a definite "period" to the same statement, in accordance to his beliefs. Neither is right or wrong. It just "is".

post #14 of 22
Quote
Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

 

Also, at the risk of sounding patronising, I wish guys like this were the public faces and voices of religion as opposed to... certain others.



I don't think that's patronizing at all. I was really impressed by some of his other commentaries.

post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Art Decade View Post

IMO, Malick's POV seems to be more that of an inquisitive observer of the phenomenon of life than someone with a definite viewpoint. In the case of Tree Of Life, I think he's laid his observations all out & is leaving it up to the audience to come to some cathartic conclusion. In the case of an Agnostic like myself, I placed a "question mark" at the end of Malick's open statement. Conversely, the wise gentleman in the youtube video seems to have placed a definite "period" to the same statement, in accordance to his beliefs. Neither is right or wrong. It just "is".


Yeah, I think this is correct. Malick certainly appeals to a biblical viewpoint with the opening quote and the use of the word "grace," but the film doesn't force a narrow range of interpretations, and I think that's purposeful. Malick, in my limited exposure to his style, is more about inviting the viewer to think, experience and explore rather than strictly telling how to view things.

 

post #16 of 22

I viewed Tree of Life from a less spiritual perspective than a lot of people, I think.  Less Christian, anyway. I felt like invoking Job was primarily a way of communicating what we then witnessed in the narrative: that we are defined mostly by elements of pain, shame, guilt, and strife, and those are punctuated by less frequent, but equally powerful moments of grace, love, and knowledge.  Basically, our demons are more present than our angels, but both fight for control.

 

This is also reflected in the creation sequence- where sheer chaotic, terrible and destructive forces give way to brief moments of mind boggling beauty, and eventually, something new.

 

I have heard a few people I know who saw it before me kind of laughed at the dinosaur sequence, but I really liked it.  I think some people mistakenly equated the dinosaur's action with human compassion.  And so it came off as random and cheesy. But, if you'll forgive the odd turn of phrase, I saw it more as "primordial compassion."  Which is to say the beginnings, but without any real rhyme or reason.  Like everything else, it just happened, and who can say why?

 

The sequence on the beach is harder to put into any sort of context.  The only thing I can summon at the moment is that as he has this (as someone mentioned earlier) cathartic vision that helps him deal with his childhood issues, he begins to resolve his sense disconnection with the impersonal, metal, artificial world around him.  In other words he begins to see the natural world reflected in the modern world, and it gives him some sense of peace.

 

Also, I was thrilled to see Jessica Chastain finally on the big screen. (Well, on my big screen TV at least.)  As I mentioned in the thread around the time of the trailer, she was an acquaintance of my sister's during high school, and I saw her in a couple amateur productions.  It was clear the girl had more talent than anyone else around her, but to see it come to fruition in such a way is very pleasing.

post #17 of 22

Bailey, without meaning to tell you that you're wrong about yourself, I don't think your viewpoint is "less" spiritual, but just less connected to a set POV. I agree that Malick intentionally left so much open to interpretation and discussion, and I would not call this a "Christian" film. The theme of grace, culturally and historically, does invoke Christian thought and perspectives, but it doesn't require or force them. And the film is inarguably stronger for being open, mysterious, and non-dogmatic about the story its telling and its themes.

 

I also think it's a mistake to equate the dinosaur's moment of grace with human compassion. You nailed, I think - Malick was communicating his idea of "grace" starting long before humans, and as something that evolved or became stronger as life evolved. Now, what's interesting is again that leaves a lot open to interpretation: does that mean grace was hard-coded into creation, that, assuming some sort of designer or creator, that the trait or choice of grace is part of the weave of the cosmos? Or does it mean that, as life became more complex, as intelligence became self-aware and more abstract, that "grace" came about as a way of socializing, and inventing culture? I do think it's interesting that Malick chose a raptor-like predator as the carnivore, since paleontologists theorize about their cranial capabilities (choosing something a modern audience would associate with dino intelligence over a more archetypical predator such as a T Rex).

post #18 of 22

Damn, MichaelM, you've articulated thoroughly what I'd come in to say about the "dinosaur sequence". Beautiful. My take on it was that Malick, in a beautifully reductionist way, presents the "question of morality (a phenomenon of existence)" as a parable using the 2 dinosaurs at the riverbank.

post #19 of 22

 

I suppose I didn't mean to deny the spiritual element.  I guess what I meant is that I was watching the movie with more of an interest in a psychological interpretation.  That the large, middle portion of the movie seemed focused on the events that form an individual psyche.
 
Malick does show how things very great and very small have developments that, when looked at in a certain way, can be seen as matching, or at least a parallel can be drawn from one to the other.  Whether one can see patterns in this, and if that speaks to coding, and by extension god, remains open to debate.  I did feel like there was a connection being made from the events that formed the world to the events that informed one personality.
post #20 of 22

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bailey View Post

 

I suppose I didn't mean to deny the spiritual element.  I guess what I meant is that I was watching the movie with more of an interest in a psychological interpretation.  That the large, middle portion of the movie seemed focused on the events that form an individual psyche.


I actually got an opposite impression here. I don't think that Malick was particularly interested in any individual character's psyche at all. Sean Penn, the kids, the parents; they're all ciphers, substitutes for the audience. I felt that the family itself was a reductionist attempt to boil down communicable, universal experiences of growing up & of family life in general. I was incredibly impressed & kind of shocked how acutely Malick captured the experiences & sensations of discovery & inner-evolution within the parameters in childhood. I actually recognized alot of my own early childhood within the family sections & I can't help but think that that kind of relatability was exactly what Malick was going for.

post #21 of 22

I'm not saying it's an in depth character portrait.   I just mean that Malick was focusing on the moments that shape an individual.  There's certainly an archetypal element to it, but Jack is the focal point.  That doesn't mean it's not meant to be universal.

post #22 of 22

Here's a near-definitive take on the debated dino sequence, straight from the guy who was in charge of the effects:

 

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2012/04/tree_of_life_the_missing_link_.html

 

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