Dissecting The Tree of Life with Grace, Style, and the Aftertaste of Strange Potato Chips in My Mouth.
Dense. Uncompromising. Beautiful. Repulsive (if you’re stupid). These are all adjectives one could use to describe Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, or the entire field of physics. But here, I will use these four adjectives (the last of which is conditional) to describe Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life.
I’m going to shed all pretension here: I had no clue what this movie was about on a macro-level. That said, I loved it, and I’d like to think I’m somewhat qualified to discuss it intellectually. First off, the film was beautiful, and that’s good enough for me. The shots were all stunning, and I would’ve gladly stared at the screen enraptured for all of its 2-hour 19-minute running time, even if the film turned out to be a thinly veiled allegory for why heavy metal music and tacos are awful and why it’s perfectly justifiable to be easily offended. It was that pretty.
But our Malicking activities don’t stop there. If I’m not mistaken (bear with me, I’m going solely by intuition), the film touched on existential themes by way of a creepy, abusive family in Texas and the surreal upbringing of three brothers without a positive male role model. In a roundabout, Flannery O’Connor way, I suppose this is Malick’s way of throwing a diaphanous, philosophical, very INFP message (which I still don’t quite get) into a film that doubles as a beautiful exercise in self-indulgence.
Perhaps the film’s non-linear nature makes it the ideal “poster film” (yuk yuk yuk) for this year’s Senior Film course: it may have little to do with self-aware cinephilia, but, along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tree of Life is easily the most rhizomatic movie I’ve ever watched. It goes in all kinds of strange directions and borrows from many different scenes and settings to make a unifying point, albeit one that I have yet to extrapolate. Perhaps that last detail even strengthens the film’s case — that it’s all-over-the-place nature is part of a larger artistic statement: that life (much like The Tree of Life) isn’t meant to be understood, at least not easily. So meta.