Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
So, I caught Malick’s To the Wonder in theaters, mainly because it was filmed right around where I live (a good portion was done around an hour from my house). I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly Malick’s gorgeous style. I decided to go back and take a look at a Malick film I’d missed when it was in theaters and I tracked down a blu-ray of The Tree of Life. It’s really difficult to express what this movie is. It’s the story of a young boy growing up in Texas and the struggles of dealing with the death of one of his brothers, his self-loathing, cruel relationship with another brother and his tense relationship with his angry, stern father. However, it’s also the story of the birth of the universe and the evolution of life over billions of years. Yeah, AGAIN. It’s undeniably a movie like I’ve never seen before and Malick’s direction is unbelievably strange and surprising. The movie is one of the most visually beautiful I’ve ever seen and yet, unlike To the Wonder, the film never really loses the strong humanness of the story. The film is breathtaking on blu-ray, but I’m kicking myself for missing it on the big screen. The film captures a lovely look at the elliptical, vibrant world of childhood that’s lovely enough on its own, but when the film switches to a lengthy sequence detailing the entire history of the universe from birth to death, the imagery is as astonishing as any sequence of equal length in any movie ever I’d say. If there’s one word that sums up Malick’s brilliance on this film, it’s “vision.” No one would ever imagine watching a movie like this, much less making one, but somehow Malick’s brain fired with the intense images of this film, images that burn into the brain and, I suspect, never leave. The film is too strange to ever be a favorite movie and the movie fumbles the emotional resolution at the end, which leaves things unbalanced, but the vibrant power, strangeness and beauty of the images contained in this film, from a group of children engulfed in a white cloud of DDT to a coalescing cloud of stardust burning with eternal fire, are perfect.
Next time, it’s another older film, one from very nearly ten years after Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s a classic that gets better every time I revisit it and one of the things that is most strikingly brilliant each time I see it is the strange, disquieting direction.