I had been waiting patiently, ever since trailers were being ferried around, for the new Malick movie, The Tree of Life. The net effect of time traveling through cosmogony and compassionate dinosaurs was: being over- and under-whelmed at the same time.
Theme-parks predicated on forcing you to be happy have always had the opposite effect on me. Disneyland was deeply depressing, all the more knowing that death was illegal on its premises. No one ever dies in Disneyland. At the same time, Snow White looked suicidal despite her strained smiles.
Maybe it’s the ‘teen spirit’ that won’t die, but, being told to feel something bullishly does not produce that feeling innately but as a matter of bittersweet coercion. In George Constanza lingua, it ‘does the opposite’.
Such it was for me with The Tree of Life.
Its epic-ness was relentless, even though the kernel of the story concerns a single family, and the vectors of love that vie between its constituent elements. Reputedly, 3 years were spent just on the editing. And it shows – but for all the wrong reasons. What starts out as a stunning technique of collapsing different befores and a singular now quickly becomes belaboured – and dare I say it, boring.
A major culprit is the music. There is no let up from the Big Orchestral Sound. Scientists may well reveal that the Big Bang actually did occur to a live Brahms accompaniment.
Some of the astronomical interludes were astonishing. Some were not as good as Apple’s similar looking screen-savers. The dinosaurs were not as believable as BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs. Both of these sections play a huge symbolic role and I so wanted them to work. But they felt unnecessary. Portentous.
Every work of art probably yields what each viewer or reader or listener brings to it. Their lives are keys that fit the lock or don’t. One friend identified strongly with the fraternal episodes,and the ethereal mother. Another with the disciplinarian father. One more with the inculcation of religion during childhood. The friend I went with wanted to leave after about 20 minutes and said he felt absolutely nothing in the depiction of what it means to be young (other than a genuinely moving Oedipus-like moment involving a car jack).
This in itself may make The Tree of Life an interesting film for reasons that have less to do with itself and more to do with our own unfilmed lives.