Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
This 2011 film directed by the famously reclusive Terence Malick; ‘The Tree of Life’ opens with a quote from the bible. As if the experimental format of the film wasn’t enough to make the film a target for the word ‘pretentious.’
In fact that is a general problem for some of Terrence Malick’s films, while they are definitely very philosophically driven, they lack self – awareness. His 1998 War Epic ‘The Thin Red Line’ definitely has a very spiritual mood and atmosphere to it yet, the voice – overs which Malick uses to drive the film’s philosophical content and meaning is so vague that it can be applied to anything it wants to be. The film is so serious that it doesn’t see the sheer ambiguity of how it tries to portray it’s themes.
The Tree of Life does suffer from this problem in many ways, I have a feeling that many people who have watched this film will deem the film as a whole lot of nonsense. They will have problems with the fact that the film lacks a proper plot and that the film’s voice – overs and themes are too vague for it’s own good. Yet, while such may hurt the viewing experience of ‘The Thin Red Line,’ ‘The Tree of Life’ is a better film for it.
‘The Tree of Life’ questions humanity, our purpose and our very being. It questions the world and the notion of a higher being. The film shows unworldly imagery, by a master of visual effects himself: Douglas Trumbull. Such visuals are made with the ‘old school’ method, without the use digital effects and making use of physical substance like paint or other substances. As such, the film’s unworldly imagery truly looks ethereal and fantastical, portraying the grand scale of the unknown and the universe to the very best of human conception.
Grand, epic and yet not truly knowable.
While ‘The Tree of Life’ may be known more for it’s more experimental qualities, it does actually have a story of sorts. The film focuses on the childhood memories of a middle aged man as he reflects his interactions with his parents and his siblings, often times cutting to images of the universe in it’s most ethereal form and visuals of the conception of life, a human being.
‘The Tree of Life’ is vague, yet powerful.
The film’s cinematography consists of cameras that are almost always moving to give us a sense of momentum, always referencing the scale of the universe and the world. The music almost always accompanies the visuals of the film and little are there moments of silence in the film. It wants us to keep feeling and experiencing.
‘The Tree of Life’ won the Palm d’Or of the 2011 Cannes film festival and I think that it fully deserves that recognition for this may be one of the most important films of our generation.