Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life, was apparently booed (and applauded) at Cannes, putting it in a (probably) small group of films that includes Lars von Trierâ€™s Antichrist, Vincent Gallo’s execrable Brown Bunny, and Michelangelo Antonioniâ€™s astoundingly beautiful L’Avventura. Manohla Dargis describes Tree as a “a beautiful if hermetic vision,” though, which â€” despite the many, many times I’ve disagreed with Dargis â€” I find encouraging.
While I can’t defend a film I haven’t seen, but I’ll point out two facts: a lot of people at Cannes get drunk (you have drink beer in French theaters, after all), and even French people can have crappy taste. Malick hasn’t made a film yet that I’ve found uninteresting. I’ve seen all of his features, and I especially love The Thin Red Line and The New World. Are his films also glacially slow and occasionally self-indulgent? Sure. But always beautiful, and always fascinating.
The Tree of Life is out in the US on May 27, 2011. You can read the film’s official synopsis after the cut.
We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the worldâ€™s way of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.
From this story is that of adult Jack, a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our worldâ€™s preparation, each thing appears a miracleâ€”precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.
The story ends in hope, acknowledging the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the familyâ€”our first schoolâ€”the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover lifeâ€™s single most important lesson, of unselfish love.