I finally saw Terrance Malick's latest epic, Tree of Life, last night. Malick has an amazing knack for taking subject matter of the most heavy nature (loss, God, regret, the meaning of it all), and through sheer beauty and sensitivity to the medium, turning it into poetry. If I were to read any of his scripts, I would probably consider them to be sentimental, heavy-handed drivel. I mean his movies are about longing gazes, "who/what am I:" voice-overs, and indulgent shots of nature. BUT dammit, he gets it just right - they work despite their audaciousness. Tree of Life is no exception. It's a gorgeous story centered around one family under the rule of an overbearing father (Brad Pitt), a grace-of-God mother (the stunning Bryce Dallas-Howard), and 3 sons, the eldest of whom is played as an adult in some scenes by Sean Penn. But primarily it's about the eldest son at about 13/14 or so, how he makes his way in the world ruled over by Father. I don't need to get into it all, but you can imagine how the drama might unfold. Under Malick's hand, though, simplicity and subtly tell us this story of loss, regret and love. Sound trite? Sure. But Malick's magic is that he makes it magical.
It's the composed shots, the cinematography - the pacing, the editing that create the magic. Malick worked on this with movie with Emmanuel Lubezki, who is known for one of the best-shot movies of the last decade, Children of Men and the two of them pull off some of the most gorgeous images I have ever seen on the screen. Even a simple shot of the interior of a modern office building, a low-angle perspective, is filmed so well. I could gush about the filming for pages...
But first, to the biggest surprise in the film: Dinosaurs!
There's dinosaurs in this film! That came out of nowhere. Well not nowhere if you had read any reviews of the film when it was in theaters, but I shied away from the reviews this time. Needless to say I was quite surprised by the dinosaurs. They come near the beginning of the film, in what has to be the most beautiful, tender film sequence ever made that describs the creation of the universe, and the Earth -and the life on it. It's like basic science: big bang and evolution, complete with gorgeous shots of nebulas and even the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. It's a film within a film, and lovely to behold. I've never seen dinosaurs depicted with humanity before. (unless you count that puppet show: Dinosaurs) The movie is worth a look just for that 20 minutes.
This is something like Malick's 5th movie in 30 years. The guy does not play around. Except a little bit with the dinosaurs.
Tree of Life: 4.5 Molos