I’ll weigh in later when I’ve read all the posts above and given the film some more thought.
However, I do want to make a “meta” comment on the discussions thus far:
This is a truly EXCELLENT thread, the sort of intelligent conversation that originally attracted me to THEAUTEURS.COM (now MUBI). It’s also generally been respectful and not snarky, with people defending their views in a non-combative manner and offering specific examples from the movie (even images) to support their general points..
Bravo and Brava to all concerned!
“I’m starting to think that Malick’s ‘comeback’ films are too self conscious for their own good. too aware of their own self importance, which is the complete opposite of Badlands and Days Of Heaven.”
Actually I would disagree wholeheartedly. Badlands is, to me, far more self important. It, like all of his films, features a heavy discussion of the cruelty, mixed with the beauty of the natural world and man’s place in that world. But in discussing Spacek’s innocent nature in the film it actually lessens the cruelty of the story it’s based on.
Charles Starkweather and Carri-Ann Fugate didn’t hide in the woods after Starkweather killed her parents. They carried the bodies out to the backyard and lived in the house for six days after drinking, smoking and having sex. There is no innocence. They didn’t lock up the wealthy house owners in a closet. They stabbed the people in the house and shot the father of the house as he came home.
I would say that Malick’s alteration of reality to discuss notions of innocence actually lessens the impact of the central point of the film and is far more self important than anything he’s done since (though I haven’t, as of yet, seen The New World).
I agree with Archie. I don’t see a lot of separation between “self-importance” in ToL and Badlands and Days of Heaven
Even Badlands has a palpable grandiosity to it, particularly toward the end . . . for example the obvious visual reference to crucifixion with Kit “crucified” on the rifle and the horizon line as the sun sets:
The difference I see between these films and the later ones is mostly a matter of narrative handholding.
One other stylistic thing I wanted to mention about ToL, did anyone else note that during the scenes of Jack’s childhood, Malick had the camera doing a lot of tracking toward the characters, something I don’t remember seeing very much in Malick’s other films (maybe someone’s memory is better than mine?). You can see it some here:
The husband and wife scenes in The Thin Red Line reminded of many scenes in Tree of Life. I also remember a shot, near the end of the film, on Adrien Brody tracking up to him but I don’t remember much of that in Days of Heaven or Badlands and that feature was definitely intensified in Tree of Life.
It depends what we mean by self-importance and self-conscious. I think the latter films are more poetic, arty, abstract and ambitious—in terms of the thematic objectives. The monologues point to more directly towards serious ideas and the narratives become less and less important.
I sympathize with those who find the monologues clumsy, pretentious and even too direct. However, as I’ve mentioned, I think they’re signposts to help the viewer interprept the cinematic elements of the film—that’s where all the poetry lies, imo.
Matt said, One other stylistic thing I wanted to mention about ToL, did anyone else note that during the scenes of Jack’s childhood, Malick had the camera doing a lot of tracking toward the characters, something I don’t remember seeing very much in Malick’s other films (maybe someone’s memory is better than mine?).
I noticed this, and I also think Malick really didn’t use this type of shots as much in his other films. (There seemed to be more of a hand-held feel, too.)
“more of a hand-held feel”
“This is a truly EXCELLENT thread”
I feel the same way. It’s very nice to see some sustained discussion of a particular film here. It’s rare that we can get a dozen or so pages of discussion of a single film in a single thread. Would love to see more of this here.
I can only speculate as I have not yet seen the movie, but reports suggest people are seeing the movie in two different proportions. It has been a ray of light to some eyes, and to others all deformity, an obstacle course. I will see this movie somehow. Exciting to see it raising eyebrows all over the world.
’nother dp. Weird.
“Would love to see more of this here.”
This is why I got on board the “Campaign to support Tree of Life” thread. If, for anything, to have something for us all to talk about.
“to others all deformity, an obstacle course.”
Honestly, I wouldn’t see this being a problem except for people who’ve never seen this type of movie before. It does sort of fit a “memoir/stream-of-consciousness” movie essay style that is more often seen in experimental short films. Rarely has the director the ability or money to make it as long as this, or go into such detail in the evolution sequence, for instance. Some people react to those short films by saying, “I don’t think that type of approach can really be sustained for very long anyway” and I think Tree of Life is a pretty outright rejection of that criticism.
I loved the movie but I wish it was longer. People complain that the creation and dinosaur scenes felt out of place but if that’s the case it’s only because there wasn’t enough of those kinds of transcendent montages throughout the movie. They dominated the first half hour of the movie but then don’t show up much until the end, making them feel a little tacked on to the “real” movie. I would have liked to have seen the personal story re-linked to the story of mankind at the end of the movie. I felt that that ending scene was too short and the movie ended when I was still waiting for more.
What was the movie about? Who cares. The Job references seems to imply that the universe is greater than we can understand and that humans are tiny in a vast place. The personal story of Jack’s family is then linked to the larger story of planet Earth. Things come and then go. Mankind will be one of them. So will Earth. The dinosaur scene helps deliver this point because it shows a time when Earth is recognizable yet humans don’t even exist yet. I also noticed that there was a scene later in the movie – where the oldest brother pushes his brother to the ground for no reason – that resembled the dinosaur bullying scene. Throughout the movie I often saw human beings resembling creatures, animals.
I also saw clear parallels between the father-son relationship and the God-Man relationship. Right from the first time we see them, the Father coldly demands that his son kisses him before going to bed, then asks him whether he loves his father in a way that allows for only one answer. The boy says, “Yes, sir” but there does not seem to be any trace of genuine love between them. The father is stern and cold, a dictator that lays the rules. When the father left, the boy turned into his father and became the bully of the house. Instead of the father beating his child into a good person, he taught him cowardice, cruelty and bullying. I’m not sure exactly about the religious subtext because I don’t see this as an anti-religious film.
Apart from the curtain, the scenes where the boys run through the fields also reminded me Ratcatcher.
Michael says, “What was the movie about? Who cares.”
But he then proceeds to provide an exegesis that tells us what the movie is about by pointing out the connections between the cosmic and prehistoric scenes and the ordinary sequences of family dynamics. Bravo!
But, who cares? It seems that YOU do. (I do too.).
For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . such as it were.
At first I thought you were being sarcastic, now I’m not sure…
The film makes me think about certain things – that’s what matters. What it actually is supposed to mean doesn’t really matter to me. I was trying to point out that what we take from the movie is more important than finding some kind of official interpretation.
Malick has said much the same thing about interpreting his films—that he is happy leaving them open to multiple possible interpretations.
So if the father is an analog to God, then the film suggests God is as helpless and answer-less as he his—ultimately stuck in the same cycle of life that we all are. That’s an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of till just now. My own ideas on God are pretty agnostic, so I can comfortably distance myself from any Christian elements in the film and approach it from my own viewpoint. I don’t personally believe that God (whatever that is) pays much attention to, or can intervene in, the affairs of the physical world, or at least Humanity. The film shows this, much as life does—people die without reason, without justice. We grow up misunderstood, acted upon by many forces outside of our control.
This is one of the reasons the film connected with me—the narrator constantly asks unanswerable questions that are very much like prayers, or meditations, questions that I’ve certainly asked before and probably everyone does at some point in life.
This doesn’t make them trite, but profound. These are the most fundamental questions we can ask, and since they are unanswerable, they express a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
I (bias alert!) love this film. For more reasons than I’ve yet written about.
Malick does appear earnest in his poetic travels — and even if he’s not, I still have to account for the queries it raises in my own life. Tree of Life and its kind open up the dialogue, both inward and outward.
Michael: For the record, I was NOT being sarcastic, although I may have been a bit ironic.
I also do not believe in “official interpretations,” even if they come from the artist’s mouth. “Trust the tale, not the teller.”
Just saw this again. Man, there’s a lot to chew on, and hopefully I make the time. (I really wish I had this on dvd, so I could rewind and re-watch/“re-listen” to portions of the film.) Some initial comments on the second viewing:
>People talk about the wonderful visuals in the film, but I think the use of music, sound and silence is masterful and just as important. (This is definitely not a film to see with people munching on popcorn.) The coordination between sound/music and moving images, composition and editing is just superb. (Another reason I think of Kubrick—although I think Malick is better at doing this.) Imo, the film evokes emotions from these moments (not so much the acting or characters).
>In the second viewing, the structure of the childhood sequences became clearer. Part of Jack’s growth involves several stages: 1) he begins to notice manifestations of evil and pain (the crippled man; the boy who drowns and the boy who is burned; he also sees criminals being taken away; 2) he questions the existence of these bad things and wonders why he must be good if God is not; 3) he starts going down the wrong path (starting with breaking the windows, then stealing and finally hurting his brother; 4) he might suggest that this straying away leads to the death of his brother.
The family then leaves Waco, and I believe the film cuts back to his mother grieving after finding out her son has died. This transition seems to strengthen a major theme: why does God allow bad things to happen. And the film returns to the Older Jack—I believe he’s riding up the elevator and then he has the epiphany.
>On first viewing, I thought the beach scene represented a reconciliation, but on the second viewing I’m wondering if it is the afterlife. Before the beach sequence, we what looks like an eclipse or possibly the end of all things. (A VO of Older Jack says something like, “Brother, take me with you all the way to the ends of time.”) Or the beach sequence could be a vision that the Older Jack has of what will happen.
What makes the scene confusing is that Jack’s mother appears in this sequence at the time she learns about the death of her son. So, the Older Jack is having this ephiphany/vision, but the mother, from the past, takes part in the vision at the same time. (This made me think of Matt’s transhistorical interpretation.)
Something else I’ve not seen mentioned yet—When Jack is riding the elevator notice the beeping sound that seems to track his progress. Normal elevators don’t make that sound, and in fact it is (to my mind) the unmistakable sound of an EKG machine counting out a pulse.
Whose pulse? Jack’s, of course, but what does this mean? Is he dead or dying in the present tense scenes? I think yes, both literally and figuratively. The entire film is about dying, inasmuch as it is about living—but the present day Jack scenes are counterpoint to the “growing” sections of the rest of the film concerning his family. He’s dying the tiny death of a man lost in the corporate world unfulfilled, plagued by his past and unable to reconcile it with his present into a happy future. He is laying in a hospital bed awaiting his inevitable death—whether the entire film is his deathbed recollection or this is just the director’s nudge, I can’t stop thinking about that sound and what it means to the film.
Anyone else notice that?
I didn’t notice the beeping sound, but then again, maybe the sound system wasn’t that great. I think you offer an interesting interpretation, though. Prior to the beach sequence, I believe there are images of someone (a boy) laying in a grave and one of those angelic females gesturing the boy to come out.
On the other hand, Older Jack begins by riding up the elevator (going up to the mountain top or heaven) and then rides down after the ephiphany/vision. Then he walks outside. We see a shot of the glass building reflecting the sky. Then we see a bridge which precedes the light sculpture, which is the last shot of the film.
Any interpretations of the building? the bridge?
Oh, I’d also like to hear interpretations on the meaning and significance of the film’s title? What about the significance of trees in the film? (Older Jack says something like, “You (God) spoke to me through my mother, through trees…” He also sees a tree in the courtyard of his office.)
The thought that Jack actually hits Heaven in the end would make the whole thing a bit neater, narratively. I hadn’t looked for symbolic evidence of it, I’d just thought it possible from the ending.
I don’t mean to deflate, attack, or troll here, but I really don’t like the film. I don’t see God in my parents or Eden in my childhood, and I don’t think it’s healthy to look for them. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but America has a weird issue with equation of paternal and Godly authority which I’d like to see us move past.
I’m not clear on whether the family has to move a couple times or their house just gets shabbier looking. Can anyone clarify that point?
Shit, got a little grouchy there. sort of derails the thread. Too late to edit or delte, or please disregard, except for that part about whether they moved or not.
I’ll go through the thread in its entirety before contributing properly, but I’ve seen the film twice now (only came out in England last Friday) and I adore it. I consider many of it’s basic premises and conclusions not only incorrect, but sometimes outright immoral, but I think it’s a profoundly powerful, affecting, and rich piece of work. One thing I will reply to, from this last page:
In the second viewing, the structure of the childhood sequences became clearer. Part of Jack’s growth involves several stages: 1) he begins to notice manifestations of evil and pain (the crippled man; the boy who drowns and the boy who is burned; he also sees criminals being taken away; 2) he questions the existence of these bad things and wonders why he must be good if God is not; 3) he starts going down the wrong path (starting with breaking the windows, then stealing and finally hurting his brother; 4) he might suggest that this straying away leads to the death of his brother.
I think that’s a pretty good description of some of it, but I do take issue. I don’t think Jack recognises that his actions lead to his brother’s death (neither do I think it makes sense to assume his actions do lead to his brother’s death). You also miss an incredibly important element of the story – upon reconciling with his brother, after shooting him in the finger, his brother clearly embues him with grace in a very Christ-like way. As Jack’s hands are clasped – almost as if in prayer – his brother touches him first on the hand and then on the shoulder. Then we cut to a sequence of Jack living in the sort of righteous and loving way that Malick appears to advocate – sharing his stilts with the burnt boy and showing compassion to his distraught, now unemployed father. I don’t know if it’s been discussed already, but the Christ-like image of the younger brother interests me.
Ricky said, I’m not clear on whether the family has to move a couple times or their house just gets shabbier looking. Can anyone clarify that point?
In terms of chronology of events, the family lives in a traditional looking house when Jack is born. Then about the time Jack is eleven or twelve, they move out—where, I’m not sure. However, when Jack’s younger brother dies, Jack’s parents live in house designed in a modern style (This is where Jack’s mother learns about the death of her son.) What is confusing is that the film abruptly jumps from one time period—and location—to another. (The streets of both the traditional and modern homes are somewhat similar, too.) To make matters a little more confusing, the older Jack also has a modern-designed house and my memory of the film after the first viewing confused this house with his parent’s. (Also, when Jack’s mother is pregnant with him, they might not even be in Texas. There’s a medieval looking statue and a waterfall/river with Jack’s mother, grandmother or some female.)
I don’t think Jack recognises that his actions lead to his brother’s death (neither do I think it makes sense to assume his actions do lead to his brother’s death).
First, I’m not entirely sold on this reading, but let me offer my reasons for it. Jack mentions something like, “What have I done? or what have I started?” at some moment while he’s headed down the wrong path. (I think this occurs when he spills water on his brother’s painting.) I realize that Jack and his brother make up; and Jack does something kind after ward (not sure about kindness towards his father). But the question becomes: what’s bothering the Older Jack? I’m not 100% sure, but the film seems to suggest that the scenes with the older Jack occur on the day his brother died. Why do I say that? Well, he lights a candle before going off to work; he seems to be brooding over something—not just at home, but at work, too. In a phone conversation with his father, he says that he thinks about him every day (him being the brother who died presumably). Moreover, these scenes seem to be occuring while the mother is also mourning the loss of her son. Finally, in the dream/vision sequence, the Older Jack gets to see his mother (she seems to be the same age when Jack’s brother dies) release and accept the death. So the Older Jack’s bad day seems to parallel the mourning that his mother is going through.
Still, this doesn’t really prove that Jack feels like his going down the wrong path caused his brother’s death, but it does provide a reasonable connection between the scenes where he’s headed down the wrong path, his brooding in the future, the mother’s grieving and than the final dream/vision/ephiphany. If Jack doesn’t feel responsible for his brother’s death, then what is he brooding about? And how does that relate to his brother’s death and his mother’s grieving?
As for the Christ-likeness of the brother, there might be some similarities, but I don’t really see him as a Christ figure. I think the film portrays him as a sensitive, gentle person—similar to the mother. But beyond that, I don’t see him as Christ-like.
Matt said, It’s very nice to see some sustained discussion of a particular film here. It’s rare that we can get a dozen or so pages of discussion of a single film in a single thread. Would love to see more of this here.
Just wanted to second (or third) this notion.
did anyone else read the Niles Files link posted a page or two back? Really interesting stuff there and ties in alot of the discussion already made here on the the thread. Highly recommended….
Terrence Malick’s Song of Himself V – The Tree of Life: Los Demiurgos
I plan to check out that article, but I want to process the film a little more before I do.
Btw, besides the tracking shots and hand-held feel, I also noticed a lot more close-ups—as in a Dreyer’s Joan D’Arc. There’s also one or two scenes in the attic that reminded me of something from David Lynch or Kubrick’s The Shining. All of these things made me feel like Malick got a bunch of directors together and allowed them to shoot several scenes and then step in at the end and put them together.
Well, Jazz, we know the “creation” stuff includes the work of at least two experimental filmmakers, and it seems homage to other filmmakers as well (Tarkovsky and Ramsey being the to that seemed most apparent to me), so there does seem to be an effort toward a polyphonic, dialogical work.
Uwe Boll calls The Tree of Life a “piece of shit” (also refers to Von Trier as a “retard”).
So does this confirm the film is a masterpiece?
Uwe Boll just keeps on getting funnier everyday.That shit is hilarious.