Chances are, you don’t know much about The Tree of Life – you probably know Brad Pitt is in it, and possibly that it’s weird and arty, and maybe you’ve even heard that people have even been demanding refunds when they can’t understand the film. Well fear not, internets! I have taken one for the team and ventured into the abyss for you – I saw The Tree Of Life (#28) this past week.
I wish I could tell you what the movie was about. But honestly, it’s hard to really accurately describe it. It’s beautiful; it’s poetic; it’s art. And it’s confusing as all hell.
*BE YE FOREWARNED! SPOILERS AHEAD, AHOY!*
So it starts with this little girl admiring cows, who grows up to be
Bryce Dallas Howard Jessica Chastain, who marries Brad Pitt and has three adorable boys, and then time shifts and one of the boys dies (presumably in Vietnam?) and then time shifts again and Sean Penn is sad and we figure he’s probably one of the other brothers, all growed up, working some non-descript stressful job, and then it’s a lot of really pretty camera work and then… Space. Ocean. Volcanoes. Dinosaurs?! And lots of whispering voice-overs. Prayers? Who knows.
And then… Brad Pitt and his kids are back! And this is just the first hour, folks. The best way I can think to describe it is this: It’s like I was at home in bed, watching some artsy Brad Pitt film on the Independent Film Channel, fell asleep, rolled over onto the control, and awoke to discover I was now watching the Discovery Channel. When Dinosaurs Roamed America! Then I fell back asleep, rolled over on that same control and voila! Brad Pitt once more!
The rest of the move had a very loose plot – told mostly from the perspective of the eldest son (Sean Penn’s character as a kid,) it’s just sort of various events that make up his childhood and showcase his growth and loss of innocence. Examples of his father’s strictness, his mother’s love and compassion, playing/fighting/bonding with his brothers, learning right from wrong, etc. And then, that ending! I have no idea what was going on, or what I’m supposed to take away from it, other than apparently God’s a chick and Terrence Malick is really into sapphic imagery. Terrence Malick is a feminist! Right on!
But here’s the thing: I didn’t hate it. In fact, I really liked it.
Sure, it was a little pretentious; unnecessarily long and convoluted; visually captivating, sure, but pretty damn hard to follow. And yet, I really enjoyed it. I can’t really explain it. It’s like that old saying, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” That’s how I felt watching this film. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get 90% of it, and yet I was utterly captivated by it. It moved me. I loved all the bits with the brothers, the various things the kids did and said and the way the director focused on their faces, their hands, their movements… it moved me.
I remember watching Gus Van Sant’s Elephant in high school and thinking, “yeah, it’s pretty, but Jesus, get to the POINT!” I didn’t get it. I didn’t appreciate it. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the film.