‘Tree of Life’

If you want to see a film with a clear narrative, or indeed, one with any kind of an identifiable narrative, then I suggest you avoid ‘Tree of Life’, Terrence Malick’s new film.

At the end of the film, at over two hours, no mean investment of time, the friend I was with said, really quite loudly, ‘what a load of pretentious b%ll$cks’ and most people around us smiled.  Not a voice was raised against the view.

I was tempted to conduct a straw poll at the door.

‘Did you enjoy the film?’

‘If not, why did you stay until the end (bearing in mind not that many people actually did leave before the end)?’

My answers are:  I didn’t enjoy it, but I stayed because I kept hoping that something might happen soon, and by the time I realised that nothing was going to happen, I’d already invested so much time in it that it seemed a shame not to see it through to the bitter end.

Before I went to the cinema I had read a couple of reviews of the film, and it is clear that opinions of different film critics veer from the wildly enthusiastic to the bored to death.  I think it depends how like an advert for a mobile telephone network you want your portentous movie interpretation of the Book of Job to be.

My preference is for films that tell me a story rather than illustrate a metaphysical belief, and I spent the  first half an hour of the movie stifling a screaming plea that someone give me a fast forward button.

At best I should tell you that the film is an impressionistic display, containing many beautiful and striking images.  The beginning shows  a mother, standing in a modish 1950s styled house, receiving, by telegram, news of a son’s death.  At a noisy airfield a father receives a phone call he can barely hear, presumably telling him the same news.

From their grief the film them departs into a nature film of exploding stars, rushing water and, eventually, dinosaurs.  Yes really, dinosaurs; set against roaring classical music and breathy, pretentious voice over reciting platitudes about the choice between grace and nature.

It just fell short of showing the history of evolution in real time.

Finally it returned to the family story:  a stern father trying to teach his sons to be strong, and a rather effete but sweeter mother, barely any dialogue and not much by way of continuity.

It was a puzzle to me which son had died, which son grew up to be Sean Penn, who drowned as a boy, how the mother got into her fancy big house, why Fiona Shaw bothered and who was the boy with the funny shaved scar on the back of his head.

I also only discovered after reading a review in the Observer that the dinosaurs weren’t fighting, as I had thought, but were, to the eye of the fond reviewer, being kind to each other.

I was losing the will to watch by the time we had to view a long scene of barefoot people on a beach reaching their hands to the sky.  Thankfully the final exploding volcano sequences were much briefer than those that had gone before.

There may be a good story in there somewhere, but I couldn’t see it.

Leave a comment


  1. ‘what a load of pretentious b%ll$cks’


    LOL. Terence Malick has this peculiar position in Hollywood. He made that horrible film, “Badlands,” umpteen years ago to universal critical and commercial success and then ran back home to live off the proceeds.

    Just because a director, (one cog in the machine) managed to create magic once, doesn’t mean he can do it again. Movies are always the sum of their parts, and those parts change. Actors grow up, turn into directors and stunt men move on, writers mature. Malick took years out, the biz changed.

    Malick has clearly lost his mojo, while I never found his ouvre to my taste, it would appear he’s been drinking his own fame for this one. The appearance of Brad Pitt, a uniquely _dreadful_ actor is usually a good clue that a film will be a turkey.

    This is an absolutely classic review. Really, the dogs trolleaux:)


  2. margaret nickels

     /  July 13, 2011

    Interesting …… I found many confilicting reviews so I shall err on the side of :too many other things to do with my life and take your review as a defining point and leave it to other people Thank you .


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