Apropos of nothing musical, I’ve had the strange fortune this week to catch, first, the last half hour, of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and then, a couple of days later, the first half hour of the film. Has anyone seen this, either in full or in part, even out of sequence? As I await delivery and posting of a really cool interview with a key artist in the Hall, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I saw.
SPOILER ALERT! I may be giving away some key plot developments…after the jump, but probably not.
Beside Mallick’s first movie, Badlands, I’ve found his films excruciatingly beautiful and boring. It’s like he’s making nature porn. In those terms, what I saw of The Tree of Life was hardcore nature porn, not the “tasteful” softcore nature porn of that movie with a young Richard Gere and some woman who may have been Mrs. Robinson’s daughter sitting in a wheat field, or whatever. However, I found the moving pictures of his newer movie fascinating, for as long as I could suspend my cynicism.
The Tree of Life could have been entitled Earth Odyssey: 2001. Like Kubrick’s groundbreaking work of space porn, the 2 half-hour sections I watched relied solely on Laser Floyd–worthy visuals and classical music, some of which may be classified as opera. There was one stretch, for instance, that my wife described as having the visuals ruined by “that annoying, high-pitched screeching.”
I liked the last 30 minutes, which I caught first while channel surfing, better than the first 30. The last 30 minutes featured Brad Pitt; Sean Penn; Jessica Chastain (?), the red-headed actress who seems slated to inherit Patricia Clarkson’s former roles for the next 5 years; and 2 young boys, clearly the sons of Pitt and Chastain’s characters and possibly one of which the flashback version of Sean Penn walking around on a beautifully filmed beach, more or less unaware of each other, and with faraway looks in their eyes. It was like a more pleasant version of REM’s “Everybody Hurts” video. Occasionally an offscreen voice whispered something, and occasionally the film cut away to spectacular nature scenes or scenes from the boys’ childhood in some delightful suburban town from the Golden Age. Nobody on the beach conversed, nobody seemed to have a purpose on this beach. In fact, nobody was wearing a bathing suit or even sunglasses. At one point Pitt’s character picked up one of his boys, held him up to the heavens, and looked meaningfully into his eyes. I was actually moved by that brief scene. I’m a sucker for any movie scene involving memories of the joy between a father and son. Perhaps that’s what earned Pitt his Oscar nomination.
The first 30 minutes of the film was nothing but Laser Floyd: slo-mo scenes of stuff exploding, lava bubbling, vegetation growing, clouds moving. Someone needs to replace that movie’s soundtrack with whatever head music kids are into these days and show The Tree of Life as a midnight movie for stoners. There was not one human or actual line of dialog during the opening 30 minutes, just some occasional whispering from a female god, I suppose. The opening of the movie required too much for me to handle, but I hung in there in hopes of seeing the dinosaurs I’d read about. Sure enough there were a few scenes with really cheesy looking dinosaurs. At that point I’d had my fill. My wife went to bed and I flipped over to a sports network.
For those of you who’ve seen this 2 hour 30-minute film, does the 1 hour and 30 minutes in between the beginning and the end feature any dialog, character development, and plot, or did Pitt simply get his Oscar nod for how good he looked in conservative ’50s guy hair and the way he swung the boy playing his son up into the heavens? Didn’t Chastain get an Oscar nomination too? Was that her character whispering stuff throughout?
I look forward to your insights.