03 June 2011

Review: The Tree of Life

Genre: Drama

It's quite difficult for anyone to speak eloquently about such a simple topic as the one director and writer Terrence Malick approaches in his latest film, The Tree of Life: science v. religion; the argument makable there is plain, the story old, and the finer points mired in mud, dug up from each side's digging heels into the ground. So, Mr. Malick - either quite hopelessly or quite savvily - eschews speaking altogether; his writing places filamentary strings between points in time and space, bound then by shifting webbings that hang together with sap-like viscosity and flow equally heavily. Instead of a discourse through dialogue on the life-and-death nature of the debate, an emotional tide he rolls in and then pulls out and finally in again over the doings of a family bluntly divided themselves between "nature" and "grace." That this emotional, nostalgic, fanciful turning is effective is not really the undertow; that the narrative itself is emotional, nostalgic, and fanciful is. Mr. Malick's great exercise here is not that he's said anything new about the matter at hand, but rather that he's adapted his own personal style (see Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line), characterized best by the abstract camera and the hovering monologue, to the direction of saying the matter at hand novelly. Few feature-length films or filmmakers step so effusively outside of the bounds of typical, critical communication for the purpose of exploring the alternative colors of the spectrum that the medium film has to offer. Influences from Brakhage, Schlesinger (viz., Midnight Cowboy), and Kubrick are evident. For what he owns here, Mr. Malick is safe too; The Tree of Life, though practically a substantial project, does not make a substantial meal but has crenellated finery spelling throughout it.

Grade: A-/B+

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