Malick's TREE OF LIFE
I didn't expect to wait in line for 20 minutes to be able to get two tickets to see a Malick's film on a Friday noon show. In the US usually lines are seen on weekend night for "Avatar"ish blockbusters, but that is one thing I like in NYC, lines of serious cinema viewers do exist. Interestingly the crowd was mostly elderly and middle-aged, maybe this is due just to the location being in the upper west side (as opposed to a younger audience in Chelsea or the Village).
Tree of Life is an excellent movie, it is Malick's most daring work to date:
1. It is his most NON-linear narrative.
2. It attempts to find (to show) answers to impossible existential philosophical questions.
3. It is his most visually-driven work (some frames are pure abstracts)
4. It has dinosaurs (as -almost- everybody, I knew that before seeing the film).
Sooner or later everybody will be comparing this movie to Kubrick's 2001, especially when it will hit the theaters in wide release in July. This is not a surprise, I read somewhere that Malick even dragged the same visual effects pioneer who worked on Kubrick's 2001 (Douglas Trumbull) out of his retirement to work on Tree of Life. Both 2001 and ToL have those near-abstract frames in long sequences, but overall Malick is no where near Kubrick as a visionary filmmaker: Kubrick's work is really enigmatic (e.g. the monolith) compared to Malick's detailed and more grounded and more scientific-based frames (e.g. cells, sperms, ovocytes, planets....etc).
With some limitations, one can say that ToL is to Malick's oeuvre what The Mirror was to Tarkovski's: Both movies represented the directors pushing their cinema to extremes of experimentation whether technically or in narration and also both movies are their most personal (I wouldn't use the word autobiographical for ToL despite what I read about family members in Malick's own life -almost- having identical historical traits and events to the movie's characters). One major limitation to such comparison is that The Mirror is Tarkovski's best work. And by the way, The Mirror has -by far- a much better narrative than ToL and for that alone it is a much better work. Another reason why The Mirror is a better work is that it lacks any major weakness or flaw, whether ToL -despite being an excellent work- has few downs, and almost all of them are present in Malick's attempt to explain (or show) the unknown. I can mention one of the very last sequences that is visually striking but gives a relatively "naive" image to the afterlife. What should be mentioned though -and that most of the critics seem to miss- is that this whole "vision" of the universe should be seen as a subjective vision via the mind of the main protagonist and NOT a scientific explanation. Taking this into consideration helps me digest this better, just like how one should not be attempting to explain Tarkovski's dream sequences.
Tree of Life is not an easy work to apprehend from a single view, I am not sure where it ranks in Malick's work but it is definitely something different than everything else he made and for this alone I have to give credit to the director to step out of his comfort zone of storytelling. I will be visiting very soon this movie again (and again). One can say that Malick just made one of the best and most sincere movies about childhood but to limit ToL that theme is unfair.
Visually it's Malick at his best especially with a cinematographer like E. Lubezki (the terrific visuals of Children of Men, and The New World), the soundtrack is outstanding with original work by A. Desplat blended with classics by Mahler, Brahms....etc.