Musings on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Well, I feel like I’m the last person who saw this film. I had been so intrigued by this from the first time I heard about it. When it won Palme d’Or at Cannes, I said I couldn’t wait to see it, alas I finally got around to seeing it.

I’m not a Terrence Malick fangirl but I do respect his work and enjoyed three of his films in the past. However, all of his films seem to fit into the one-time-viewing-is-enough category — with the exception of the last half hour of The New World as I adore Christian Bale as John Rolfe — and this one is included.

The concept of a tree of life, a many-branched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related, has been used in science, religion, philosophy, mythology, and other areas. (per Wikipedia) Now, Malick started the film with a verse from Job 38: 4 & 7 of God’s response to Job’s complaint:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

The verse seems to suggest that it’s leaning towards the Judeo-Christian worldview, but I feel that this is not so much a Christian film as a spiritual one… the gospel a la Terrence Malick if you will. It’s so deliberately vague that whatever message you want to take away from this really depends on your own worldview.

I’ve been warned of the lack of coherent narrative in this movie, but even with that in mind, nothing could prepare me into what I’m about to experience. I guess all of Malick’s movies are something of an enigma, but this is perhaps his most obscure and cryptic work to date. There is barely any dialogue in this film. I even joked to my husband that the whole script probably consist of a single page, front and back, and that’s about it.

The point of view we get is mostly from the eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken), though there is female voice over narration that seems to suggest a mother mourning the loss of a son… at times questioning God… “Lord, Why? Where were you? Did you know what happened? Do you care?” and other times she’s letting go… “I give him to you. I give you my son.”

Triggered by a tree being planted outside his skyscraper office building, the adult Jack (Sean Penn) who’s now a successful architect begins to reminisce on his childhood memories growing up in 1950s Texas. He and his two brothers were raised by a stern father (Brad Pitt) and loving mother (Jessica Chastain). That is pretty much all Malick let on in the way of plot… we’re on the outside looking in as we observe scenes of family life — kids playing, mothers comforting her child, kids being disciplined by his father, etc. Those scenes are interspersed with breathtaking imagery that seem to symbolize life’s origins and origins of the universe.

I find it impossible to properly review this film, nor can I find an appropriate rating for this. In fact, even after this film sits with me for 48 hours, I’m still trying to process just what it was that I saw. So what I’m going to tell you is how this film makes me feel. At first I was really intrigued by Malick’s direction and oohed-aahed at the overwhelmingly beautiful nature and cosmic imagery, but about three-quarters of the way in, I actually almost dozed off, spurred by the lack of action on screen and the sweet-sounding classical score by Alexandre Desplat.

In the end, the whole thing left me rather um… indifferent. Even now I don’t have any strong feeling one way or the other, which is odd considering how polarizing this film is. I think the only character I feel some sympathy with is Jack when he was a kid, as he seems to suffer the most from the way his dad treated him, but the rest of the characters fail to engage. Not that the actors’ performances weren’t good mind you, it’s just that these I couldn’t really connect with them. I think Pitt and Chastain are effective in their roles, though Penn is utterly wasted here as he wasn’t given anything to do other than looking lost and forlorn.

I’m also surprised that I didn’t shed a single tear even though I’m a crier. I mean, I bawled my eyes out watching Wall-E! With all that said though, I’m still glad I saw this film. In fact, I recommend people to actually take a chance with this film even if you have trepidation about this based on what you may have read. It’s definitely worth a watch even just to marvel at the cinematography and Malick’s keen eye of capturing nature in its most delightful way.

My husband liken this to seeing a piece of fine art in a museum, sometimes you might not understand what you are looking at in front of you, but it may have the power to touch you in a profound way… but then again, maybe not.


Well, that’s the best way I can ‘review’ this film. So what’s your thoughts about this film? I’d love to hear ’em.

Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or! Congrats to 2011 Cannes Film Festival Winners!

What an interesting journey Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life has been at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Just a week ago, it was booed in its first screening (read the story on Entertainment Weekly), but today it’s won the top honors the Palme d’Or for Best Picture! This isn’t the first time he nabbed top honors from Cannes, he actually won a directing prize for Days of Heaven back in 1979.

Apparently Malick is notoriously press-shy and is often absent from film festivals or even film premieres. This time is no different, so producers Dede Gardner and Bill Pohlad were on hand to receive the awards. “Why isn’t he here? I’m not saying it’s an easy question to answer, but he personally is a very humble guy and a very shy guy,” Pohlad said after the awards ceremony (per Washington Post). “He just very sincerely wants the work to speak for itself.” Minnesota-native Pohlad was actually at the Twin Cities Film Festival (TCFF) last year to promote the CIA drama Fair Game which concluded the festival. I’ve mentioned in my coverage of the event that he was producing this epic drama under his production company Apparition.

Check out the trailer below if you haven’t already:

After reading the reviews from Cannes, I must say I’m even more intrigued by this film (it’s one of my most anticipated movies this year). I came across this ScreenDaily article while checking out those reviews and found out that Malick is a devout Christian (Episcopalian to be specific) and according to Martin Sheen’s Wiki page, had a big influence in restoring the actor’s faith while filming Badlands. I guess I’m not terribly surprised by that and it certainly makes me like him more. I kinda thought that Days of Heaven had some Biblical allegory in it as this article suggests, so I wonder if the reason for the boos at Cannes is that the audience aren’t keen on the deeply spiritual aspects of the film? I won’t be surprised if that’s the case, either.

Anyway, here are the other major winners at the festival (per Yahoo News), chosen by a jury headed by Robert De Niro:

  • Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive
    I haven’t seen any of the Danish director’s work (still have to check out Valhalla Rising). His star is definitely on the rise and perhaps this movie will make him a household name? The story is certainly intriguing: A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong. It also has two super talented actors: Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. Reportedly Gosling handpicked Refn to direct the movie.

  • Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
    Awesome! I just put up the trailer last week and I must say Dujardin’s performance is a must-see. I hope this silent movie will find a decent audience here in the States.
  • Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
    Happy for Kirsten but I don’t really care for the movie nor the filmmaker… as Castor reported last Thursday, Cannes’ organizers banned Melancholia‘s director Lars Von Trier from the festival for his remark about sympathizing with Hitler. I must say I’m glad they did, though I doubt he learned his lesson.

Big congrats to all the winners!


Well, what are your thoughts about the festival winners and specifically Tree of Life? Are you looking forward to seeing the film?

FlixChatter’s Most Anticipated 2011 Movies – Part I

This post has been in my draft folder for a while… originally I wanted to post right after award season is over. Now Oscar is already behind us for nearly a month (boy, I kinda forgot about it already), so I better not procrastinate any longer.


This post will be divided into two parts, Part I is from March – July and Part II consist of movies released in the later half of 2011. I only list those that I’d most likely be seeing in the cinema, based on the release date information from Movie Insider as of last night. As dates get shuffled and more movies are added, I will update this list accordingly. Anyway, here they are in order of release:

MARCH

March 11 (limited) – Jane Eyre
Synopsis:
The Gothic story of a lowly governess who captures the heart of her employer Mr. Rochester, only to discover that he’s hiding a terrible secret.


I’ve blogged enough about this topic that I don’t think I need to explain further why this is on the list. Check out the
trailer and stills from the movie. I can’t wait to finally see this in two weeks and find out how Michael Fassbender fares as Rochester compared to my all-time favorite.

APRIL

April 22 Water for Elephants
Synopsis: A 90-year-old man reminisces about his life during the Depression, when he found work at a B-level circus taking care of the animals. He sees the brutality of circus life while falling for the wife of an abusive animal trainer.

There’s something about the world of the circus that intrigues me, it certainly adds a layer of mystique to the love story. Amongst a sea of comic-book superhero flicks, it’s nice to see a romantic drama to break things up. The trailer looks pretty promising with gorgeous setting and lovely music. Rob Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon seem to have a decent chemistry and having Christoph Waltz here is a big plus. I’m ready to be swept away 🙂

Maybes:

  • HannaEric Bana and Cate Blanchett in one movie… how bad can it be? The premise of a child assassin isn’t very appealing to me, but still I might be curious enough to check it out because of the cast. Plus I like director Joe Wright’s previous work.

MAY

May 27 Tree of Life
Synopsis: The story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.

Click image for more photos at Collider.com

I’m more intrigued about this more for its director, Terrence Malick (who also wrote the screenplay), than for the cast (Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain). Malick’s last feature film The New World was back in 2005, which is a relatively short gap compared to the 20-year span his fans had to wait between Days of Heaven (1978) and the Thin Red Line (1998). The premise is intriguing and promises to be thought-provoking, and judging from the poetic trailer below, a sweeping visual vista is to be expected. This is certainly on the list of virtually every movie sites/blogs out there. I know it’s highly unlikely but it’d be nice if for once a movie like this beats a franchise film like Pirates at the box office.


Maybes:

  • Thor – Though initially I was anticipating this, the two trailers have been underwhelming. I’ll wait for the reviews before deciding whether to see it in the cinema or rent this one.
  • The Beaver – Yes, I don’t mind seeing a Mel Gibson movie. It actually looks pretty amusing from the trailer and the script made the top of the 2008 Black List (a list of yet-unproduced top screenplays picked by about 250 Hollywood execs).


JUNE

June 3 – X-Men: First Class
Synopsis:
Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together with other Mutants, to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift happens that propels the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-Men.


This one is probably in my top five anticipated movie of the whole year. If you still don’t know anything about this movie, check out the
trailer and the gorgeous character posters. I think Matthew Vaughn has picked a wonderful cast for the main characters, especially James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles and Eric respectively. The dynamic relationship between these two are what I’m looking forward to the most.

June 10 – Super 8
Synopsis: In 1979, after the Air Force closes a section of Area 51, all materials are transported to a secure facility in Ohio. A train carrying some of the materials derails during an accident and something escapes from one of the cargo cars. A group of kids making movies with their Super 8 cameras accidentally capture what escapes on film.

The teaser that came out a few weeks ago was intriguing, but it wasn’t until the full trailer came out that I’m actually excited about this one. It’s a throwback to the classic Spielberg sci-fi movies like ET and the kids-cast kind have that Stand by Me vibe to it. The auteur is teaming up with JJ Abrams who wrote and directed the movie. The creator popular TV show Alias, Lost and Fringe, Abrams proved his directing chops in Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. Kyle Chandler is a likable actor who finally gets to shine in a leading man role, good for him.

JULY

July 15 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Synopsis: The final adventure of Harry Potter as he attempts to bring an end to his nemesis, Lord Voldemort.

This is the event all Potter fans been waiting for. No matter how you feel about the first installment (read my review), one thing we can all agree on is it made us look forward to this final film all the more. One of my favorite parts of this franchise is watching all those British thespians in various roles, both good and evil, and we’ll finally learn which side he/she really is on (I’m looking at you Professor Snape).

July 22 – Captain America
Synopsis: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals.

I’m not as familiar about Capt. America amongst other Marvel superheroes. But the two main reasons I’m anticipating this are Aussie thespian Hugo Weaving as the main villain Red Skull and the retro look and feel of the movie, which director Joe Johnston has done before with Rocketeer. One thing for sure, Johnston has a knack for casting great actors in the role of villains (as he did in the role of fabulous baddie Neville Sinclair). Plus, one of my fave British actor Richard Armitage also has a small part as Nazi officer Heinz Kruger. The trailer looks pretty decent, so at the very least this could be the perfect popcorn entertainment of the Summer.


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July 29 – Cowboys & Aliens
Synopsis: Set in 1800s Arizona, a battle between cowboys and Apaches is interrupted by the crash landing of a space ship. The alien commander plans to tame the Old West and enslave everyone, but the cowboys and Native Americans turn their six-guns against the alien invaders.

Initially I was a bit disappointed that Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t going to re-team with his Iron Man director Jon Favreau for this, so it kinda fell off my radar. But then I saw the trailer and went ‘whoa!’ It’s got to be one of the most memorable trailers I’ve seen for upcoming movies, it’s bizarre in an exciting kind of way. I mean, it’s hard not to be intrigued even just reading the title! Gritty Bond Daniel Craig looks all bad ass in his cowboy outfit and whatever it is on his wrist certainly looks cool. Add curmudgeon Harrison Ford into the bargain (and sexy Olivia Wilde for the boys), then this just might be the one to beat at the box office this year.
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PART II will be posted later this week. For a full listing of ALL movies released in 2011, visit the-numbers site.


Well, any of your anticipated movies make the list? What movie(s) are you anticipating this Summer?