Sunday, June 19, 2011

Phil sees THE TREE OF LIFE at the Camera 7 Pruneyard-June 19, 2011

First off, I just wanted to say Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. So to celebrate this special occasion, I decided to review three new films, but to save some time (and to give my fingers a break because I am horrible at typing) I'll be dividing these reviews up individually. So there was a serious amount of hype surrounding the first film I saw today. It received critical controversy at the Cannes Film Festival, and seeing the trailer for the film for the past couple of months have only fueled my curiosity. Now that I have seen Terrence Malick's new film THE TREE OF LIFE, I can honestly say that the hype is way overblown.

The film's about eldest son Jack, his two brothers and their parents during the 1950's. Jack's journey from innocence to disillusioned adult (portrayed by Sean Penn) is chronicled through a non-linear storyline and experimental imagery. His complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) is the catalyst for Jack's sense of lost in the modern, cold, adult world. While searching for himself, he also questions the meaning of life and the existence of God and faith. As he digs deep into his scared psyche, we travel through time, to a land before humans existed, to outer space and back, we're supposed to question and reflect on our role in the universe.

Director Malick's output is sparse to say the least. He made two quintessential films of the 1970's: the poetic BADLANDS and the visually stunning DAYS OF HEAVEN before disappearing from the film world for over two decades. Malick returned to filmmaking in 1998 with the release of THE THIN RED LINE. Now Malick's new film continues his foray into lavish, experimental imagery with a story that's light on dialogue and heavy on metaphors. While many critics have praised his return, and have compared the film to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, this reviewer found the film tedious and boring.

Granted, the film is visually stunning and boats beautiful cinematography, it felt too avant-garde and light on a cohesive story. The film deals with wonder, death, waywardness, and hope, but there isn't enough of a story for the film which to anchor itself to. Experimental, avant-garde films are amazing, and I do love watching them. Films by Roger Barlow, Harry Hay, and Stan Brakhage are must see films, but for Malick's film, it left me disenchanted and empty.

THE TREE OF LIFE is an over hyped, lifeless piece of cinema that critics love but audiences might be turned off by its lack of story and emotional connection that comes with seeing a film. If you love watching breathtaking visuals and avant-garde experimentation with a non-existent story, then by all means, rush out and go see this film. If you prefer the traditional three-story arc, witty characters, and happy ending films, then you should pass on this and see something else.

THE TREE OF LIFE is now playing in theaters nationwide, including at the Camera Cinemas here in San Jose. To view showtimes, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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