The Tree of Life opens with a passage from the book of Job.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” ( Job 38:4,7)
I have been waiting for my chance to see Terence Malick’s controversial new film, and today being its first day of cinematic release here in New Zealand, I took it. In fact I got out of bed late, rushed out the door caught the bus to work (ie. the cinema) and managed to arrive after the feature had already started. It was the first session of the day and there were four other people there. About half an hour into the film two of them had left and I had to turn around and tell the two women who were still there to please not talk through the entire film. They quickly shut up and then finally left not too much after that. So I had the cinema to myself.
And what did I think of the film? I have heard the words “self-indulgent” bandied about a lot, and I would say that that isn’t far wrong. But also, I would rebut, that possibly all art is in some way self-indulgent on the behalf of its creator, and rather self-indulgent than the usual money-grubbing that comes out of Hollywood. The film is highly impressionistic. It has a quality somewhere between dreams and memories, and considering it is essentially that, Sean Penn’s character looking back at his childhood and reflecting on the grand themes of life, existence, nature and grace. Struggling between the views and actions of his mother (grace) and father (nature), wrestling with his own inner nature, disconnected from his present. It is about a search for meaning. It is exquisitely beautiful. It is not a film for everyone. It is not a film for most people. It is not a movie, it is art. It is enough for me that I liked (no loved) it. I don’t apologise for that, either.
I would say that watching the trailer should be enough for you. You have been warned. Don’t blame me if you decide to watch it and can’t stand it.