I’M SORRY, WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE?
The Tree of Life
Review by Lee Kias
Spoiler alert! There’s a dinosaur in “The Tree of Life”. You heard me, a dinosaur – just laying on the beach bleeding. Betcha didn’t see that one coming did ya? The movie opens up with about twenty to twenty-five minutes of nothing but shots of lava, cells dividing, water flowing in rivers, tracking shots around the solar system and then all of a sudden, BOOM, a dinosaur! Apparently this is supposed to be a metaphor for the beginning of time or something. But if you ask me, it looked like twenty minutes of a really well produced 8th grade science film.
Look, admittedly I’m not the most erudite moviegoer out there, then again, I did just use the word erudite correctly so clearly I’m not a complete doofus either. Also, remember, I was the man who successfully explained to Movie Guy Adam Witt the plot Steven Seagal’s “The Glimmer Man”. So yeah, I can follow a complicated storyline. Seriously, look up the plot summary of “The Glimmer Man” on Wikipedia – it’s nuts. But I digress, where was I? Oh right – what the hell is going in “The Tree of Life”?
Remember taking that film class in college where you were required to write, direct and produce your own movie? And remember how boring, over-wrought, idealistic, symbolic, and melodramatic your film was because you were trying way too hard to be all sorts of artsy and deep? Well, just imagine if you had a multi-million dollar budget to make your film. Then what would you have? Well, you’d have one of the prettiest looking, boring, over-wrought, idealistic, symbolic, and mellow-dramatic movies starring two of the greatest actors working today.
“The Tree of Life” is one of those movies that everyone claims to love and thinks is so great because they’re afraid they’ll look stupid if they admit that they didn’t understand it or worse yet, just plain didn’t like it. Well, Movie Guy Lee Kias has no such fear. I didn’t get it and I didn’t like it – sort of.
Like it or hate it, this movie does work on you because it truly is a sensory experience – both in sight and sound and, yes, time. It’s long. Even many weeks later this film is still swimming around in my head. There is something about this movie that gets into your brain and makes you think about it. But more accurately, it makes you feel it. You can’t think about this movie by simply recalling the images or the story, it really does evoke a feeling in you. Granted, that feeling might be confusion, but it’s a feeling nonetheless. And I know, I know, I can hardly believe I just said that myself. I mean, talk about pretentious, but it’s true.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that inside this confusing movie is a very good movie trying to get out. It’s the story of a troubled father, played by Brad Pitt, who struggles with his own inadequacies in life and job, taking out his frustrations on his three sons. Compensating for his own perceptions of lack of success, Brad Pitt’s character exerts his dominance and control over the only facet of his life he can – his family. The children and mother struggle to find normalcy and reconcile the often conflicting demonstrations of affection and harsh discipline displayed by their father and husband. It’s a powerful and unsettling glimpse into the all too often less-than-idealistic life in the 1950’s. Had “The Tree of Life” simply been about this family then even with all the heavy handed themes, whispering voice over, intensely stylized camera work and less-than-complete resolution, this movie would have been a really good film. Plus, it would have been about forty minutes shorter, which alone would have gone a long way to make this movie a whole lot more watchable. And, oh, I almost forgot, Sean Penn is in it too.