When a film begins with a bible quote, you know that the movie is either going to be (a) something downright spectacular (b) a piece of self-indulgent trash. But not this time, because somehow, director Terrance Malick has managed to straddle that line to such a degree that The Tree of Life seems to do nothing more than just breed indifference. Tree is a sort of a quasi-biblical tale that appears to span everything from the beginning of time to a personal story of one family living in 1950s America. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is.
To pin down and define what on earth Malick is attempting to tell here is a dissertation in its own right and anyone who honestly believes they understand precisely what is being presented is either kidding themselves or the almighty himself.
In terms of the films visuals there’s simply no comparison. Watching the creation of the universe and the many subtle layers Malick devised is easily one of the most awe-inspiring and deftly beautiful pieces I have ever had the pleasure to watch. But as a story and as a slice of drama, it pains me to say that The Tree of Life is painfully infuriating.
The film’s plot, and the manner in which it sporadically plays out, is just so unwavering in its delivery that unfortunately it’s one that I honestly couldn’t buy into. With little to no dialogue bar a few fleeting exchanges and a storyline that refused to sit still for more than two minutes, it’s difficult as a viewer to pin your hat to any of the thousands of storylines swirling around.
For all the film’s good intentions, Malick’s artistic kaleidoscope of ideas is uncompromising to the degree that it alienates absolutely anyone in the audience who might be craving the smallest piece of structure or meaty chunk of dialogue. Consequently, with no recognizable structure comes absolutely zero comprehension of where you are at any given time during the story To say that the film drags would be grave disservice to the many wondrous sights the director has created; rather the film makes time sort of stand still and, as of yet, I honestly can’t say if that’s good or bad
When people look back over Malick’s career, The Tree of Life will be the film that everyone will chew over and dissect – and rightfully so. Even now I couldn’t concretely tell you how I feel about it as never before has a film stirred such feelings of astonishment and resentment, but I’d encourage audiences to experience it themselves, if only to draw their own conclusions.