Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Big Watch #1: The Tree of Life

The Big Watch is very similar to my other project, The Big Read. By December 2012 I will have watched and reviewed 50 films or TV shows on here (if it's a TV show, it must be a full season of a show), again to encourage me to watch the things I never get round to seeing. So kicking it off, 'The Tree of Life'...

I was desperate to see 'The Tree of Life' because of the trailer. It looked mindblowing. I thought it might have some similarities to my favourite film of all time, 'The Fountain'. The film aimed to "chronicle the origins and meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man's childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas, interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe and the inception of life on Earth."

I wasn't sure what I thought of this really. As a piece of art, it was unbelievable. Every shot could have been framed as a wall print, it was so sumptuous. There were some interesting ideas in there, mainly the idea of 'the way of nature vs the way of grace' which came from the differing parenting styles of the characters played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. The title played the two ideas off against each other, being the tree from the Garden of Eden (the way of grace) and simultaneously the tree representing the evolutionary chain (the way of nature), which I found really interesting, as I sometimes struggle to balance my views as a Christian with my beliefs in science and evolution. The central section, following the family growing up, was lovely, filled with those tiny moments that slip us by too quickly, like the children chasing each other round the garden at dusk.

The main problem was the story. The closest I could get to the overall idea was that it was similar to the end of 'American Beauty', where the main character's life flashes before him just before he dies. That was the only way I could connect the elements of the story of the universe, the grown up main character (Sean Penn) and his memories of his family growing up. It all felt a bit lost at some points though, and I could hear people in the audience with me saying afterwards that they didn't really get it. It was also too long; at 138 minutes, it could have easily lost half an hour without suffering.

For producing a piece of art, I worship Terrence Malick's directorial eye. But unlike with 'The Fountain', I didn't fall in love with this. I came out loving moments, but found that as an overall film it was too fragmented and unclear, and that the story needed tightening up. It would be interesting to see it again to see whether it becomes clearer on a second viewing though.

10/10 for beauty, 6/10 for story. 7.5/10 overall.

I believe this has now finished showing at most cinemas, but will be out on DVD at some point.

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