REVIEW: The Tree of Life

30 06 2011

I saw “The Tree of Life” almost three weeks before publishing this review, and ever since, I’ve been so conflicted as to how I would approach reviewing it.  While I definitely wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie (more on that later), I didn’t want to insult those who loved it – and there were many of those, including the majority of critics.  As an amateur blogger, I’m straddling a delicate line between critic and average moviegoer, and I’m usually seen as standing on one side or the other.  But speaking as both, I recognize that writer/director Terrence Malick endowed his latest movie with a lot of meaning: for me, however, that meaning was hollow and ultimately didn’t parallel the amount of ambition on display.

I don’t care who you hear talking about how much they understand “The Tree of Life” or how much they realize every moment of the movie – unless they have a Ph.D. and have seen the movie multiple times, there is simply no way they can.  The movie is too overwhelming in scope for anyone to fully digest, much less comprehend.  Every frame is deliberate in its own right, and every image (except mopey Sean Penn) is endowed with an undeniable beauty by its creator, Terrence Malick.

But where I separate with the general critical consensus is that while I see the rapture of each shot, I don’t see them as contributing to the work as a whole.  To borrow an expression, the whole was less than the sum of its parts.  I have no doubt that in Terrence Malick’s head, this is an absolutely sublime movie, a thoughtful meditation on some of the biggest questions of humanity and religion.  Yet somewhere between his mind and what my eyes saw on the screen, there was a great disconnect.

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