Over the last couple of nights, I watched the film "The Tree of Life" on Netflix DVD. I've enjoyed all the Netflix movies that I've chosen so far, some more than others, but "The Tree of Life' was the absolute worst. The movie was filled with beautiful images, some from the Hubble telescope, others such as a view of the silhouette of an actor projected against sunlight shining through trees, with a soundtrack that includes Brahms, Bach, and Schumann, along with original music, but - hey! - where's the story? A character comes on the scene, we see images, strange landscapes, then the character thinks or talks in a low voice, mostly to her/himself. (Before the movie begins, the viewer is instructed to turn the volume to loud. Good advice.) What's going on? I broke my viewing into two parts, because I was bored/impatient/mystified. The actors, especially the young boys, were very good when the camera was on them, which it was far too little of the time. There is a story in the movie, but it's broken in pieces and lost in interruptions that serve to lengthen the movie to over two hours to no good purpose.
I went back to read the reviews again, because I always check them out before I put movies in my Netflix queue, and more than 80% of the critics gave the movie positive reviews, but when I went to audience reviews, it was a different story. The moviegoers either loved the movie or they hated it. The scores were either 0 or 10. I'd score it far on the low end, either 1 or 0.
The Tree of Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind’s place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amid its narrative imprecisions. This fifth feature in Terrence Malick’s eccentric four-decade career is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection.Crikey! If I'd read the overblown review from Cannes beforehand I'd have known not to put the movie in my queue, that it was not for little me of "the masses". I ask you, what would I know about "great, heady things", me of "the wider public"? The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Not for everyone, surely. Not for me.
As such, it is hardly a movie for the masses and will polarize even buffs, some of whom might fail to grasp the connection between the depiction of the beginnings of life on Earth and the travails of a 1950s Texas family. But there are great, heady things here, both obvious and evanescent, more than enough to qualify this as an exceptional and major film. Critical passions, pro and con, along with Brad Pitt in one of his finest performances will stir specialized audiences to attention, but Fox Searchlight will have its work cut out for it in luring a wider public.
Movie poster from Wikipedia.