|Movie forums are saying that http://www.moviesoffice.com/category/upcoming-movies/, “The Tree of Life,” directed by Terrence Malick, is being compared to, and will be compared for a long time, to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This is both fair and unfair. It seems that this new movies place in film history is going to depend on how long it hangs around than on box office receipts or critical reaction. The “Tree of Life” is extremely impressionistic and spiritual and all about Malick’s ideas about the meaning of life. The “Tree of Life” is an original and personal movie picture, which has become unusual in United States Cinema. It’s expected that Fox Searchlight will have a long and moneymaking release well into the summer season, if they meet upcoming marketing challenges.
Malick has taken the title of his new movie release from the Bible and “The Tree of Life” is only the fifth movie of his forty year career. The structure of the film is simple AND complex. It’s an enormous cinematic symphony with a small family drama at its center. It seems that Malick wants to convey the idea that the greatest ideas in the universe are often found in the simplest of situations.
The family in the movie, the O’Briens, are a lot like any other family in the 1950s in the Southwest. Brad Pitt plays the father, who wants his three young sons to be brought up in a disciplined manner. The boys, all newcomers, are played by Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, and Tye Sheridan. Jessica Chastain, the mother, just wants to love them and isn’t as concerned with their discipline as their father is. These two different paths, early in the movie described as “grace and nature,” define the struggle throughout the life of the oldest son, Jack, played by McCracken as a boy and then Sean Penn as an adult. The idea is all about the meaning of “free will.” It’s important to ask if there’s even meaning to the idea of free will. Malick feels that there is and he suggests that it’s the existence of a higher being that gives meaning and purpose to life. In the post 9/11 world, in which that which is meaningful and that which is spiritual seem often to be at odds, Malick’s 30 year old script may be very timely.
There are lots of scenes in which the actors’ thoughts, dreams, and fantasies take center stage, including a sequence where the creation of the earth is described, including dinosaurs. It leaves no question that the movie is all about a higher being who guides the action of all beings. The style of the movie seems to be on two levels – the sound is surreal and dreamy and the camera is constantly moving, unless calling attention to small, beautiful things. Technically speaking, it’s probably one of the most incredible aural and visual works of the last fifty years. The work is so stunning that there are numerous Oscar worthy collaborators including cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, production designer Jack Fisk and many sound and picture editors.
In the end, “The Tree of Life” is going to be remembered for its philosophy, rather than for its technical expertise. It’s the kind of thing that Malick fans have been awaiting. Malick is a graduate of Harvard with a degree in Philosophy as well as an MIT philosophy professor. One need not be religious to appreciate the movie’s philosophy. Although it stems from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, the real message of the film is the universal idea of love and human dignity. People who prefer linear and easier to understand movies are not going to appreciate this message. Those who are not Malick fans are going to have little respect for this fine film. They’re going to dissect “The Tree of Life” and dismiss it as they have his other works because they feel that the cerebral and the spiritual are not compatible. Malick is an easy target because showing that there’s compatibility between that which is cerebral and that which is spiritual is considered to be intellectual heresy.
It’s true that “2001” and “The Tree of Life” both take on themes and ideas that are very similar. Both claim the existence of a higher power, and even support their views with prologues about evolution that show man’s place in the world. However, Kubrick was concerned where man was going and Malick is concerned with the condition of man. The world should appreciate the efforts of both Malick and Kubrick, although it may need Malick a little more today.
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