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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Mother. Father. Always you wrestle inside me."

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life has just recently arrived on Blu Ray and DVD, and I had an opportunity to watch it, once on DVD, again on Blu Ray.  Before I even begin here I have to make something abundantly clear, if you have a Blu Ray player, obtain this film on Blu Ray (it comes with a DVD copy anyway) and if you do not own an Blu Ray player, get one, if not only for this film.  To say this film is "beautiful" does not do it justice, neither do the words, "magnificent" "amazing" "spectacular" (though, those are all very applicable words for this film), this is a film that is "beyond words" so to speak, or at least, that is how I felt after watching it.  Speechless, without words.  What is the film about?  Everything, life, humans, what have you, it's almost easier to say what it isn't about.  The film begins with a quote from Job 38: 4,7, the part where God is answering Job's questions. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, in short, Job was a wealthy man (physically and spiritually) who is tested by the devil, determined to make Job deny God, and ultimately remains faithful and is rewarded for his faith.  The verse that is quoted here is God's answer to Job's questioning, essentially:  "God, where were you when my family and all that I own was taken from me?"  God lets Job have his moment, then responds with a question of His own, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"  Job didn't realize that all he had came from God in the first place, God who crafted the very Universe and all that resides within it.  God brought Job's perspective away from his own little microcosm of existence and presented him with the large scale.  Job remained faithful, not all do.
The family in The Tree of Life lose a son, they mourn, the question God, they remain faithful (or so it seems).  We get a sequence very reminiscent of 2001:  A Space Odyssey, showing the creation of all things, all set to some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard (bookmark: This is a VERY musical film).  We see the cosmos, single-cell life and the ensuing evolution, the dinosaurs and then back to the microcosm of 1950's America (Texas, I believe).  I may be wrong in seeing this connection but I believe it to be the point.  To show this family, watch it grow up, change, mature and struggle, knowing that one of the sons will die, juxtaposed with the grandiosity and magnificence of existence, is meant to almost parallel Job.  The small and the big, not necessarily important and unimportant, just a matter of size and scale, something the oldest son can not understand, something the mother questions, yet seems to ultimately understand.  A local boy in the neighborhood dies and the oldest son Jack whispers (seemingly) to God, "Why should I be good, when you aren't?"  He doesn't understand, and that seems to be the case with most people, it's not easy, but then what is?  Most of what happens seems to be showing us how Jack grows farther away from his family, his "naive" but loving mother, his overbearing father, even his brothers to a certain extent.  I know that this connection, the strictly spiritual connection, was most likely not Malick's intent, could be, but most likely not, and it almost doesn't matter.  Sean Penn plays the now grown-up version of Jack who seems to be replaying most of what happens in the film in his head, remembering what is was like growing up, remembering his family and his brothers (one now long dead), rethinking his life and the way he lead it.  All this leads up to some sort of afterlife where everyone is reunited and remembers they're family and friends, it's an interesting take on things.
That's really about's not the easiest film to describe or put into a nice plot summary, it's light on the narrative and heavy on the visuals, the imagery the sounds and emotions that are conveyed.  And the music, oh the music.  The sequence of creation, the galaxies, stars, planets, supernovas and nebulae are set to the most wonderful opera and classical music, it's enough to bring tears to your eyes.  The father's dream was to be a musician and he frequently plays classical music while the family eats or sits around the house.  Having an affinity to classical music myself, I could not resist this film (much like the soundtrack to 2001:  A Space Odyssey).

Terrence Malick is a visionary director the likes of which are rarely seen in this day and age, from his early film Days of Heaven to his epic meditation on war and humanity The Thin Red Line, and now The Tree of Life.  This is one of those films you must see, if you love film, music, art, whatever!  Just see it.  It's not for everyone, but it's at least worth a watch.  FINAL GRADE: A

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