short film reviews, criticism, and occasional musing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Tree of Life (2011, USA)

I’ll be honest – I’m not a huge Terrence Malick fan. I respect his artistry as a filmmaker, but I’ve never seen Badlands or The Thin Red Line, and The New World was a sour disappointment. The Tree of Life is not such a disappointment – in fact, I liked aspects of it quite a lot – but it left me wondering if Malick has a sense of humor of any sort. It’s hard to watch a movie that questions the nature of human life but contains not a single joke.

During and after viewing, when I thought on Tree of Life, I couldn’t help but compare it with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, one of my favorite films of 2011. Von Trier uses his own experience with clinical depression to spin out a story of the world’s demise, inspecting how different people deal with the certainty of impending doom, and asking whether human beings really deserve to survive. This is weighty stuff, for sure, and there are some tough moments in Melancholia, but the entire film is underpinned by von Trier’s sense of humor, something that really connected me to its story and its characters. Tree of Life, on the other hand, kept me at arm’s length (the effect all of Malick’s films seem to have), asking me to admire and contemplate in an intellectual manner alone. And there’s a lot to admire and contemplate, for sure, but not a lot to love.


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