Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let's Talk About The Tree of Life...

(Caution: May contain spoilers and spoiler-like substances.)

You may or may not have heard of this one. Those of you who follow Cannes would have. It won the Palme D'Or this year, but the crowd reaction was that of loud boos and raucous cheers.

I have to admit, I didn't quite know what to make of this one. For the first half hour, nothing really happens. Then it goes into this sequence about the origins of the planet and evolution, and there's this bit with dinosaurs…it goes on and on and on and on, and I was fast-forwarding and thinking "Oh my God, this will never end!" The plot did get going eventually, and progressed nicely right up until about 45 minutes left, and then it virtually screeched to a halt again. I couldn't quite figure out what the kid's problem was anyway.

There are ties to the story of Job also that I couldn't quite get at first. Sure, the film is partly about the grieving process and why bad things happen to good people. This is brought together at the ending, when it seems that grace wins out over nature, but I think A Serious Man did a better job of navigating this theme. "Receive with simplicity everything which happens to you."

There's quite a bit of raw emotion in the screenplay. I kind of felt bad for the actors because the characters are virtually unplayable. Sean Penn has said so himself: "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that same emotion on screen. [...] A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact."

From a technical standpoint, the cinematography is incredible. I haven't seen anything quite like it, except in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alexandre Desplat's score, although a bit high-brow, also brings it together nicely. And readers of my movie reviews know that screenplay, score, and cinematography are the three main ingredients to a good film. So, needless to say, I'm counting myself among those who enjoyed it. But, Terrance Malick also takes being poetic and preachy to a whole new level, so be forewarned.