Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’

I didn’t know this film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2011. Researching Cannes Festival for its 70th year, I ended up finding this film again, via wikipedia, and understanding… more. And images and scenes come back.


I was late to see it and, since doing so, I’d always thought it usual Malick: overblown, pretentious, very drawn out and – very – fragmented and requiring great patience at times. And I was disappointed there was little science in it; that it was all once again the human spirit and religious searching. But I guess it’s important to accept that Malick’s stuff is all about humanity; belief in the soul…or its transience… spirituality….questioning it directly… it’s about being pretentious, maybe… So it’s a ‘meditation’, not a movie. Full of contrast and searching.

I remember being so bored. And yet of course moved. It’s very strange. But it’s ‘film as a poetic language’; as a medium of beauty and exploration. The ‘mystical camera’. The bare outlines of his film may be planned, but not the contents.

And…there’s no doubt, these relentless, fragmented sequences – the imagery, the motion, following the concept coming together – stay in the mind. There are wise and beautiful scenes.  The film discovers them and you discover along with it. Consolation, reconciliation maybe, it hopes or tries – even manages – to reach. We’re all doing what we can, within nature. Life goes on….

And then there are the whispering thoughts – overused of course, but still a great component – of characters who find themselves in present situations, where you can sense their past or immediate environment threatening to overtake them.

Maybe a lot of it is simply to do with how nature is contrasted with the characters in time and place; you can feel the vicinity of nature moving, driving through them, despite all their powerless thoughts and questions.

You just can’t escape some of the scenes.

As an (eventual) fan of ‘The Thin Red Line‘, at least some of it, with its scenes that also enter the mind and stay there, without a lot of narrative needing to be there – the films become artistic moments, walking a thin line between longing, individual introspection, universal reflection and great resonance. You don’t realise the latter has prevailed over a huge desire for more editing and story, until afterwards. You may remember only chapters of his films, and revisit them.

You are v. unlikely to make it through the whole of The Tree of Life in one sitting. The narrative appears and disappears. But it doesn’t want you to remember a narrative, particularly.

You see… it just resonates, it does, and when combined with some background explanation, (wikipedia) like some small note-card next to a giant painting in a gallery, I see the film’s intention again. You suddenly feel a longing to be lost in some of the scenes again. To ask those basic, timeless – childish – questions his characters ask. You can go back and stare into its painting.

Then you discover more of his paintings: Voyage of Discovery, (ok, cool, so without the human element), ‘To The Wonder’ and ‘Song to Song’ 2017 (apparently with a more story than most). You realise you can’t escape being a Malick fan, much later.

Thank goodness for Wikipedia, at least, for explaining ‘more’ for me.

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