Tree of Life

I don’t need to know what is going on. I understand that this movie is a meditation on life, or even a form of prayer, with many probing questions. “If you aren’t good, why should I be?” being the most touching and truthful.

The movie uses many images of boiling clouds, boiling lava, boiling seas, like a National Geographic special without the obvious statements of the voiceover narrator.

It is when the two paths are described– grace vs nature– that it seems debatable. Or did the word “nature” imply “human nature”? After watching so many scenes of trees, plants, mountains, skies, sun spots, eclipses, etc., you sort of assume the subject of the movie is more sweeping than just human nature.

Brad Pitt is superb.

He plays a frustrated musician whose engineering patents don’t get approved. His bitterness is palpable, along with his confused and confusing way of demonstrating his love for his children by alternately baiting and berating them.

I love the way Malick can tell a story when he wants to with economy and grace, for instance with young Jack watching the argument of his neighbors through the window. The boy actor McCracken is also superb. You can tell he doesn’t want to witness the meltdown of his friend’s parents, but he must. It informs his understanding of his own parents. None of this is said. We watch him watch,and understand.

Malick also loves shooting at dusk just as the sunlight is leaking out of the sky, leaving a neutral shadowless luminosity. The effect is to add meaning to any action because this point we are racing the clock until darkness descends.

I wish I knew why the middle son was killed (during the war? suicide?) or what it meant when Sean Penn and his wife were dressing formally — for his mother’s funeral? We know we are not watching a linear narrative where a connects to b. We are invited to jump from J to P, back to C. and so on. All letters of the alphabet are not supplied.

Still, I could have done without the dinosaurs.


About Patricia Markert

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