by Joanna Orland
This is a film that many people will strongly detest. Surprisingly, I am not one of these people. Based on the hype alone, I wanted to see this film. It was the talk of this year’s Cannes, with such polarized reactions that people were booing and applauding at the same screening. The film’s description greatly concerned me with such words as “the meaning of life”, “abstract”, and “non-linear” being thrown around. These are all things that put me off in cinema as they often fail, are nonsense, or become victims of the director’s own ego. Most notably guilty of this is Darren Aronofsky’s spectacular failure “The Fountain”. Tree of Life makes The Fountain look like a truly shit film. Oh wait, The Fountain already does that on its own merit… Where The Fountain failed at being meaningful, abstract and non-linear, Tree of Life triumphs in uniting its audience with the generic meaning of life.
Like I said, this film is certainly not for everyone, and it took me a very long time to feel comfortable with its direction. Part The Fountain, part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part David Attenborough’s Planet Earth, and part Lost, Tree Of Life explores issues such as the beginning of time, evolution, life, death and the after-life. The direct story is there, but it’s not obvious. The main characters that the audience follows are the members of the 1950’s Texan family, the O’Briens, with daddy Brad Pitt, and future son Sean Penn. The non-linear story jumps across time in the family’s lifetime, and the side-story of the Earth’s evolution. It makes more sense when you see it. This must have been quite the feat to accomplish in a sensible way, but director Malick makes it work.
Tree Of Life is a Sound and Visual Effects artists’ dream project. It sounds lush, ambient and beautiful. It is the cinematic equivalent of listening to Sigur Rós on your iTunes. The visual effects were stunning, soothing and quite impressive. Who knew this film would rival Jurassic Park on the dino fx! Random!
Spoiler Alert: Sort of. In this film you know vaguely what’s going on at all times even if you don’t. So the ending comes as no surprise. What did come as a surprise about the ending was how it mirrored the LOST series finale. It even had a Sawyer-like Brad Pitt, Sean Penn as Jack, and Jessica Chastain as Freckles. It was one Hurley cameo away from being a J.J. Abrams versus Terrence Malick lawsuit. That TV show is legend.
Besides this film being very aesthetically and emotionally inaccessible to the general public, the other negative aspect of this piece was the religious overtone. I loved the nature and spiritual aspects, but as soon as the big “G” was mentioned, alongside quotes from the book of Job, I found this too preachy and segregating. We can ALL relate to being from the Earth and at one with nature, physically and spiritually. We don’t know to talk about the big guy in such a film. There’s enough going on here.
Overall, I prefer to watch all 122.5 hours of the TV series Lost, but if I only have 2.25 hours to spare, Tree Of Life gets the point across well enough. And Brad Pitt is always good eye candy. Here’s a picture of me and Brad Pitt from my youth. This is not a Photoshop job, nor is he a cardboard cutout (neither am I). He is merely a perfect being who radiates hotness:
Final word: Darren Aronofsky take note – The Fountain is shit.