Life and Death, and Dinosaurs Too

8 Jun

You know the classic Burt Bacharach song “Alfie?”

Well, after seeing Tree of Life, you may be asking, “What’s it all about, Terrence?”

The film, written and directed by Terrence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line), is a meditation on fathers and sons, the meaning of life, what it means to be a man, and probably a whole lot of other stuff too. (You get that sense from the poster.)

Actually, instead of a movie, it’s more like a two hour and 15 minute tone poem: There’s little dialogue (no kidding, two characters never speak to each other for the entire first hour of the film), lots of atmospheric shots, little to no plot, short monologues (delivered in a whispery voice over as if they’re a prayer to God), and a whole lot of choral and swelling orchestral music on the soundtrack.

Throw in Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and some dinosaurs too (yes, really), and the whole thing feels like an exercise in filmmaker indulgence. (Or hubris, depending on your preference.)

It’s not that I’m against such things.

After all, in characteristic Malick style, the film is gorgeous to look at and listen to.

It’s just that I really don’t know what to make of Malick’s films.

While I liked The Thin Red Line, The New World left me baffled. And Tree of Life left me similarly impressed but also kind of cold.

I know that’s a cop-out, so oh well if you’re looking for a more thorough and thoughtful review here.

Pitt, as a mercurial Texan father in the 50s, and Penn, as his grown-up son in the present day, are both fine, though it’s worth noting that Penn’s barely in the movie, and he spends nearly all his time looking pensive and thoughtful. Which is probably what you’ll look like after seeing Tree of Life too.

I’m giving this one a B–.

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