Filed under: film | Tags: badlands, dinosaurs, sean penn, terrence malick, the tree of life
It’s hard to imagine there’s a film that’s been dissected and torn apart by critics more this year than the Tree of Life, which makes finding something new to say about it rather difficult. I have my qualms with it; the Sean Penn scenes feel disconnected from the rest of the film, the dinosaurs are… dinosaurs and the new-agey climax is perhaps a bit much. The rest of the film, however, is so overpowering that it isn’t hard to cast those concerns aside, to lose yourself in the grandeur of the creation sequence, to become immersed in memories of a childhood that seem all too familiar.
As I sat watching the film in the theater for the first time I remember thinking “this is what memory feels like.” The snippets and reflections, the flights of fancy that couldn’t possibly be legitimate, the imagined experiences of others. If there’s one thing that has stuck with me it’s that Malick seems to have found a cinematic analogue for the way we reflect on life, one that feels completely organic. It’s messiness and density are perhaps endemic to that conceit, as are the tenuous connections and layers of meaning that connect one scene to the next.
There have been hints of something like The Tree of Life in each of Malick’s previous films but this feels like the first time we’ve seen Malick completely unfiltered. The poetry, the melding of voiceover and image that seems so distinctly him was hardly present in Badlands. With each successive film it’s become more imposing, until it exists at the expense of all but the barest semblance of a narrative as it does here. This is one man’s life and ideas poured into what feels like a consummate work of art, and for that it is kind of breathtaking, whatever minor problems I may have with it.