The Tree of Life: calling all existentialists!

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By Lori Hollenback By Lori Hollenback

 The Tree of Life captures 3 Red Vines for interesting introspection

PHOENIX - Stunning.  Inspirational.  Boring.  Yes, Writer/Director Terrence Malick’s Award Winning “The Tree of Life” is all this and more, like extremely frustrating for the average movie audience.

The best way to describe “The Tree of Life” is to say it’s an Art film with a capital “A”.

The story, such as it is, revolves around a Midwest family in the 1950s.  Brad Pitt plays an overbearing but loving father to a gentle wife and 3 rambunctious boys.  The movie is nothing more than a string of images or more accurately, ‘impressions’, remembered by the oldest boy, who is now a middle aged lost soul (Sean Penn).  The death of one of the boys is the supposed catalyst for all the musings about the meaning of life and death.  But try as I might, I still don’t even know which son died. 

People who love the film will say that plot point doesn’t matter. They will say that “The Tree of Life” is about bigger ideas and questions about the universe and our place in it, now and after we ‘go’.  People who hate the film will say that this is just one of many frustrating aspects of the film.

Like any good art film, “The Tree of Life” is filled with stunning imagery.  About 10 minutes in, Malick goes into a 15 minute or so collage of the formation of the universe and more precisely, life on this planet.  It is mesmerizing and oddly reminiscent to images from “2001”. But when he gets to dinosaur encounters he jumps the shark into plain weird. There are occasional whispers from the main characters, that struck me as prayers or cries in purgatory. I strained to hear and decipher every syllable thinking it would make it all make sense. Don’t bother.

I can’t say I hated “The Tree of Life” but I can’t say I liked it either. It is an interesting exercise in a director’s self indulgence. It is most definitely art. It won the Cannes Film Festival’s highly coveted Palm d’Or. But like the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in this case one man’s treasure will most definitely be many men’s trash.

LADIES ROOM LOWDOWN:  Well he hung in there for about the first 20 minutes or so then bright light flooded the packed theater as a young man stormed out but not before shouting “This movie sucks!”  Gentle chuckles greeted the exclamation but by movie’s end, I would say 90% of the audience felt the same.   “I should have known.”  “I kept waiting for something to happen…” were some of the comments I overheard as people left the theater.  Once in the ladies room the talk was pretty much the same with the exception of one soft spoken, thoughtful lady.  She loved, I mean really loved the movie.  No frustration for her, just beautiful musings on life.