Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Tree of Life - A Review & Varied Opinions

Syed and I went to see A Tree of Life, Terrance Malick's new movie starring Brad Pitt, this past week.  I had heard it was a "visual experience", and being into that sort of thing, we wanted to see it on the big screen. Yes, it was that, absolutely.  But it was so much more.  It was, in my opinion, the most exquisite meditation of what it means to be human that I have ever seen.  And the most deeply refined explanation of the metaphor of "tree of life".  I would not, could not, saddle it with easy phrases - "spiritual" or "religious" or "new age" or  "meaningful".  All of that seems to completely miss the elegance and totality of the concept.  The film was, in fact, a true experience of being. Yes, it is a difficult film because it asks of the viewer to give him/herself over - to suspend disbelief, cynicism, guardedness - and just experience what you are seeing.  Once one allows the mind to enter the abstract visuals without conscious criticism, one is able to simply open to whatever is coming.  And when one opens one's mind in this way (and the clue is given by the mother in her first audible thoughts when she tells us that there are two ways of being in the world - the natural way and the way of grace), the experience of being human in all it's history, it's development, it's complexity, becomes something we are able to actually experience while in our role as audience.  Quite amazingly, we can feel what they are feeling, become who they are, without judgement.

This film is so fully conceived, so delicately executed, that it is possible to exit the theatre with greater sensitivity to life than when you went in.  And, because I have read that many people have left early, asked for their money back, and have even been angry, I would invite them all to find other viewers with whom to have conversation and dialogue and above all, to go and try again - go gently, go alone, go without hostility or expectation - and then, let me know if your experience changes.


  1. We saw The Tree of Life last night... and it was a cinematic wonder. As a photographer and neophyte filmmaker I reveled in the visual experience. I also opened my consciousness to any spiritual messages, should I find them. But what I did not find, as hard as I did try... was the arc of the story. In fact the "story", which is critical to any literary works, was missing. I had to try so hard, to do the work to find the connective tissue to make meaning of all the disconnectiveness in the film. It shouldn't be that difficult... and it shouldn't take 2-1/2 hours to try to tell it. I was exhilarated at the intimacy and impact of the visuals and left wanting badly for the story...

  2. TAK, thanks for your comment. Do you think if you saw it again it might be possible to let go of the need to make meaning? What makes this film so unusual, perhaps unique in film making, is exactly what you pointed out - the arc. Slate pointed out in a review that he too couldn't find the arc but thought it might be intentional because, as humans, we are in the arc, not knowing yet where it all concludes. In our human condition, we certainly have a great need to "make meaning" happen, and I could feel myself wanting to go there as well. But I quite like the idea that the "meaning" is simply the continuance after all.