Friday, September 2, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

"The nuns taught us there were two ways through life — the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow." (Mrs. O'Brien)

The way the film was presented makes me want to write a corresponding review: start with one thing and jump to a different remote perspective. In fact, I don't feel like scribbling another of my conventional critiques of such a picture. To be honest, I'm staring at the page and don't know what to write. On the one hand, 'The Tree of Life' is a visually beautiful experience and its beauty masks and at the same time half-discloses the deep meaning that Terrence Malick wanted to encapsulate in this movie, directed and written by him. On the other hand, rich for preachy shades, it sometimes wanders too far, taking the viewers for a long stroll, which they may not enjoy completely.

I don't want to predict future, there is no use of it, but exactly this film made my mind to be full with thoughts that this motion picture will be adored in fifty years or more. I'm almost entirely sure that it will be regarded as a controversially great masterpiece. There is one question that has been running in my head: how is it possible that the audience booed this movie, but later it was awarded with Palme d'Or? It also suggests recalling numerous statements of people who saw this film and who claimed that you will either love it or hate it, but I don't second this assertion. I was waiting for this film with great passion, but my preferences ended up neither against 'The Tree of Life' nor for it.

The film deals with those eternal subjects like choosing your path in life that also is a basis for relationships with people and especially the attitudes within a family. It is also the same old story about a confrontation, between a father and a son, between Nature and Grace; the same old story told in a peculiar way. To say that film is bizarre would be an understatement. It is a quiet but still exciting everyday journey on the outside and an explosion of vehement feelings and emotions on the inside. It also offers a choice for the viewer: which side of it to observe or even to superimpose the two, acquiring the amplitude of perception.

At first, it seems that the movie holds a conversation with itself, ignoring the audience: countless voice-overs fit into the whole panorama of film's "double life", which cannot be grasped in its entirety. Malick's cinematic creation embraces unexpected moments, which I, for one, was never expecting to see in it; and undoubtedly, it showers with sublime scenes and exalted music.

Playing the eldest of brothers, the protagonist, Hunter McCracken manages to create a wonderful portrayal of a young person who is only on his way to understanding things and to disappointment, disillusion, which are faced by everyone of us. He is the vessel for that above-mentioned confrontation between Nature and Grace: "Father. Mother. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will". As his older version, Sean Penn, although having a little of screening time, almost silent, renders myriads of emotions of his character and makes it easy to relate that boy to this aged image.

Brad Pitt has always been criticized as a more good-looking man than a good actor, but I never shared this common belief. As Father, he proves his worth as a strict parent and a personality that sees no beauty in the world. His relationships with children are built on their unquestioning obedience and his willingness to punish them and finish his meal with a light heart. However, there is more than that; in his soul, the whirlwind of feelings rages with the same force, as in the souls of his kids. And wee se it in the eyes of Brad Pitt. Jessica Chastain is Mother. And the point is not about her methods of acting. She just made me believe that she is Mother, sensitive and caring for her most precious treasure, her kids.

I don't love this film.  I don't hate it. It didn't much affect me, when I was watching it. But it does affect me now, when I'm thinking about it. It was very haunting on the day when I attended the screening. Then I easily stopped thinking about it. But now, it impresses me with its beauty, with its singularity, with its hidden layers that I will probably never understand. I was worried about the rating I would give it. I considered two stars, three stars, four stars, five stars, and everything in between. Then I bravely decided not to give it any score. Eventually, as I finish writing, I realize that no matter how many different responses it evoked in me, and no matter that I'm not an absolute admirer of this movie, it deserves not less than five stars. The picture requires multiple viewings, and for an open minded, it would be a pleasure to see it again: if they loved it, they will enjoy it even more; if they didn't, they will have a chance to explore it and understand. Terrence Malick and everyone involved into 'The Tree of Life' production created a confrontation inside me at so many levels that I'm humbled by what they have done.

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