The Tree of Life

Long awaited new Terrence Mallick vision tells a beautifully shot sad story, mixed with nice but usual nature shots and confusing space vistas. And dinosaurs…

Director: Terrence Mallick | Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

Budget: 32 million | Box office: 55 million

IMDB: 7.5 | Metacritic: 85

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life

My relationship with Terrence Mallick movies is quite complicated. In short – I don’t get them. I really tried to watch the few universally acclaimed epic pictures, which he creates very painstakingly and takes a lot of time, without any prejudice, but each time I can’t feel the connection or the amazement and awe which such grand movies usually create.

So I was cautious before watching the new movie after six years, not raising my hopes even after the success in Cannes festival, where it won a main Palme d’Or award. And I was right to do so, because after watching the movie my feelings are really mixed.

I was really impressed with the opening scenes. The main story is shot beautifully and naturally, especially the lighting. It has kind of documentary feeling and sincerity about it. It really makes sense that the director personally published instructions how the movie has to be projected in theaters.  Although this was more for film versions, and I watched the digitally projected version, which probably is a bit cleaner and thus creates this documentary impression. Anyway, the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who worked with Mallick for The New World and other impressive movies (such as one of my all time favorites Children of Men) is the most spectacular feature of Tree of Life.

That is, the story scenes. I wasn’t so impressed by abundance of nature and landscape shots. It seems that the director just collected some nice shots during all those years and put them together in a way that should inspire viewers and connect with the main idea of the movie. But for me the problem is that there is nothing really new or impressive, especially compared to such grand documentaries as Koyaanisqatsi (probably the most awe-inspiring film I have ever watched).

And then the space scenes. That would be really interesting and novel, and I believe they put a lot of work and effort, Mallick even invited the visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull and it is his first work since Blade Runner. But again the problem is that it almost copies The Fountain, which, in contrast of general opinion, for me is the most important  Darren Aronofsky’s movie. Even the same team worked with chemical reactions and other non CGI effects, but at least in The Fountain these shots had a direct meaning. That’s why here for me they were just annoying.

And then the dinosaurs. Why the hell he had to put dinosaurs here? Yes, I understand the general idea of creation of universe, life versus death, the asteroid wiping all the population etc., but those scenes took me really as unpleasant shock (somehow I missed the memo about them). Although created by experienced studio Prime Focus, they looked as taken from those usual TV documentaries.

So that’s the movie people were waiting for six years. I didn’t go into story details, as there isn’t much to say. For me it’s just a general story about a family in the 50s, mostly about a bit abusive father (Brad Pitt) and his three sons. And briefly Sean Penn, remembering it in the present time. I believe that if it was shown as it is, without all the space and scenery shots, I would have liked it much more. Well, at least Mallick has already lined up two new movies, which should arrive in coming two years, so maybe then I’ll get a chance to finally understand his work. At least with the first one, which strangely is yet untitled, although has a full cast, because the other one, Voyage of Time, will be fully dedicated for the universe…

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