February 14, 2012

Justify My Netflix: The Tree of Life

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Tree of Life

Today's movie: The Tree of Life, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by Terrence Malick, a filmmaker I'm already a big fan of; and it was a huge hit among critics last year too, including being in many people's eyes the frontrunner for this year's Best Picture Oscar, and I'm trying to get through a bunch of these critics' darlings right now* because of so many of them coming out on DVD for the first time this month. (Next in my queue, for example, the highly anticipated Drive, which I'm praying isn't ruined by having heard too many good things about it beforehand and by necessity being disappointed by the reality.)

The reality: Hmm...well, that was...hmm. Because to be clear, this film is no less than a grand statement about the interconnectedness of the entire universe, told in a deliberately obtuse way; framed around an aging architect's causally connected reminiscences one random slow day at work in the early 2000s about his up-and-down childhood in 1950s Texas, non-sequential shots from both of these realities are then interspersed by Malick with scenes of the Earth being formed hundreds of millions of years ago, scenes of it being destroyed hundreds of millions of years from now, scenes of dinosaurs first thriving and then going extinct, and all kinds of other trippy details that have been making frustrated audience members boo and walk out of screenings all over the country in the last few months. But if you can adapt yourself to its glacial pace and absurdist editing, like me you will find a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience, the true definition of a film that can change your life simply from the way it goes about telling its story, and in a way that literally could not be replicated by another artistic medium. And that's because, in order to make his point that all of life is precious, not just including the inconsequential small moments but especially those small moments, Malick makes the bold move of giving these small moments most of the film's weight; and while it's easy to make jokes about this idiosyncratic style of filmmaking ("Oh, great, another scene of kids in flattops laughing and running through a field while a Steadicam follows them -- that's exactly what this film needed"), it's the hypnotic effect of these scenes that precisely makes the film so powerful, a movie which much like the similarly philosophical genre pic The Fountain sort of revels in the idea of using slow-moving visual images from nature to make its points. (In fact, it's no coincidence that the same effects team that created all those freaky biological animations in The Fountain were hired to do the same for The Tree of Life, in this case teamed up with legendary effects master Douglas Trumbull, a longtime friend of Malick's who literally came out of a thirty-year retirement just to make this flick.) It's a polarizing film to be sure, and I can't guarantee that you won't be booing and walking out by the end too; but certainly it's great enough to at least take the chance, which I encourage all of you to do before the actual Oscars are handed out next month.

Strangest piece of trivia: A theatre in Italy once accidentally showed the first two reels of this movie out of order for a week, and neither the employees nor any of the audience members noticed.

Worth your time? Absolutely, although you may hate it anyway

*And by the way, for those who saw in my last movie review that my next write-up would be of the indie sci-fi film Another Earth; sadly, after having the disc sit around my apartment for an entire two weeks and still with only twenty minutes of it watched, I was finally forced to admit to myself that the film is just way too slow, depressing and talky for my tastes, and to send it back unfinished. Which is a shame, because the world needs more good indie sci-fi films, and that snoozefest is simply not one of them.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 5:44 PM, February 14, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |