Tree of Life
I finally got around to watching Tree of Life which won a bunch of Oscars a couple of years ago and was that year’s “art film that went semi-mainstream and was semi-vogue to like/talk about.” I completely missed out on liking and talking about it back then…probably because of some combination of me being afraid it was depressing and life getting in the way.
Tree of Life stars Brad Pitt as a 50s-era authoritarian father in the South, and Sean Penn as his now-grown son. The film sort of presents itself as a “who can explain the beautiful complexities of life, death, and grief?” kind of picture, initially, and given that Pitt’s family is a white family in the South, they seem to have some sort of religious underpinning/tradition though it’s not initially clear what that is, although Pitt’s character seems to have his own world-weary secular theology along the lines of “you can’t be too nice in this world because nice people get hurt.” Also, the Pitt character dreamed of being a musician but took a management job at some kind of huge factory instead…which seems to have kind of permanently embittered him…especially when the factory closes and he’s like, “I don’t have the quote unquote secure thing I banked on AND I don’t have my music.”
Note: It is depressing in that within the first few minutes of the movie you know that they lose a child…which is unique because they give you the depressing thing first and then spend the next part telling all of the backstory.
Aside: This movie deviates from being an actual movie for about 10 minutes near the beginning (and at several points throughout), where they show nothing but National Geographic type fast-motion nature shots of tides and ice and stuff happening to the sun and flowers opening and stuff like that, all of which culminates in a weird scene involving two dinosaurs…the point of which was all unclear to me…except to say that the shots weren’t unpleasant in any way.
Meanwhile, the wife character is the only one in the film that couldn’t or wouldn’t ever exist in real life, being that she apparently never works, never gets upset with her kids, and never does anything besides kind of ethereally dancing around and doing deep things like pondering the existence of a butterfly for long periods of time. She also floats in the air from time to time. I don’t know any mothers like this in real life…which isn’t to say they don’t exist…even though I did say that at the beginning of this paragraph.
The thing about Tree of Life is that it’s trying so hard to be evocative and, in doing so, fails to be evocative. It’s like the kid in Sophomore Philosophy who just wants the professor to like his unique insights so much that even if he did have something interesting to say, it’s lost in the fact that he’s trying so hard to be interesting. That (the trying) becomes the most interesting thing about him in much the same way that the trying was the most interesting thing about this movie.
Tree of Life was intentionally boring. It was a two-hour short film. Twenty minutes of beautiful but pointless cinematography would have been perfect. The succession of mostly-quiet, dialogueless shots was supposed to get you someplace, emotionally. There’s a heaven scene that happens in the end in which heaven is portrayed as a place where you wade around in the water and get to meet up with the younger versions of a bunch of people including, maybe, yourself.
I don’t know what to do with Tree of Life, and I missed the Gospel Coalition reviews telling me what to do with Tree of Life when it came out. So, tell me, what should I do with it?