Apologies In Advance: Two Takes On The Tree of Life
As 2011 drew to a close, every magazine, blog, newspaper, and critic out there felt that yearly need to rank things and create an incessant number of lists of stuff. Well, although Team Tallsome was just as guilty as the rest, one area that we didn’t touch on was the cinema.
Sure, we enjoyed some fantastic movies this year, but we didn’t feel the need to line all of our favorites up, inspect their teeth, check their testes, and decide if they were worthy of a victory lap.
Midnight In Paris, absolutely charming.
The Muppets, fantastic.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, surprisingly impressive.
There were also some outstanding performances by veterans and nubes alike.
Both Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy’s breakout roles in Bridesmades (aka Who Knew People with Vaginas could be funny?)
Ryan Gosling in, well, essentially every movie that came out this year.
Andy Serkis as all of the apes, but, in particular, Caesar. (Seriously folks, when he spoke for the first time in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was on the verge of pooping myself, he was incredible.)
However, the idea of sitting in our bat cave – meets – Millenium Falcon cockpit – meets – tree house Bro Journey head quarters and debating the merit of Warrior (Ok all, I’m pretty sure you skipped out on this brothers fighting in an MMA winner-takes-all sports drama, but you’re silly to do so. It was outstanding and furthers my claim that Tom Hardy is going to be THE breakout star of 2012 (Yes, I know he’s already been praised for rolls in RocknRolla, Bronson, and Inception (the scene in which he tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt that he must “dream bigger darling” before busting out a rocket launcher, outstanding), but with his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and being one of many stars in the soon-to-be-awesome Wettest County (Bootleggers running from the law in Depression-era Virginia. Also, he apparently punched out Shia LaBeouf while on set – something that every man, woman, and child that has seen any of the Transformers movies would love to do), along with a reported Untitled International Thriller, Handsome Bob is set to have a MASSIVE year) vs. Drive (which Matt of course loved because he wants to be Ryan Gosling wearing a Scorpion stitched leather jacket (f*cking hipster)) sounded rather mundane and blasé so we took a pass (side note – that entire paragraph was one sentence with a massive number of parenthetical asides (Win)).
Yet, if you look at any of the many lists of “Best Films/Movies of 2011,” there is one that pokes it’s little head up and gives us all the finger more than any other. One movie that challenged our entire concept of what a movie could be . One movie that completely rewrote the book on how you can tell a story.
One film to rule them all, One film to find them,
One film to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Texas where, whoops, I digress.
Terrence “I Only Make One Movie Every 20 F*cking Years” Mallick’s The Tree Of Life. Let’s go over a short list of nouns and adjectives that are used to convey the experience that is The Tree of Life.
Colors. Sounds. Whispering. Dinosaurs. Leaves. Sunlight. Brad Pitt’s defined jaw line. Waco, TX. What? Huh? Where am I? Who slipped me acid?
I will say this, there is nothing like it and there probably never will be again. Going into The Tree of Life, I knew that no matter how many descriptions I’d heard, no matter how many reviews I’d read, it wasn’t going to be anything like I thought it would. I remember being so overwhelmed, so confused, and so in awe of what I was seeing, hearing, and experiencing that I really had no idea what was going on. At all. Ever.
Sean Penn I believe said it best. Ol’ Spicoli played the role of the narrator as an adult. He had one scene with his parents (the two other main characters, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), but besides that, his time on screen is separate from the flashbacks (and the dinosaurs). After seeing the finished movie (by the way, The Tree of Life runs just under two and a half hours, but this was not by choice. The original cut was something like twice that long, but the studio didn’t think it was wise to release that monster upon the world. However, Mr. Mallick is reportedly going to release the full-length version at some point in the near future… in Imax (God help us if he catches the 3D bug too).), Penn’s response was something to the extent of, “I have no idea what my role was in this film.” Those are the words of someone who was inthe movie. Exactly.
At some point between the Earth being born and the narrator breaking into someone’s house to steal lingerie, I remember looking over at my mom and she looked as though she had been hypnotized. It was as if every part of her body wanted to be anywhere else on the planet, but her mind was fixated on what was occurring before her eyes. Later, when we walked out (besides a few awkward chuckles and deep breaths, we were both at a loss for words for a hot second), my dear mother made an observation/suggestion that really would’ve optimized my experience with The Tree of Life: “they should really hand out grass to people before they see this.” I couldn’t agree with you more mother, I couldn’t agree with you more. You see, The Tree of Life poses every question that you’ve ever thought about when you’ve been high/stoned/put into an altered state of consciousness really late at night (side note – The Bro Journey/Team Tallsome Enterprises, LLC. does NOT condone the use of drugs. However, if you do partake in such things, be safe, know the person that’s supplying them/it to you, and make sure to purchase a supply of Doritos or Dino-nugs for later, depending on your fancy) and all you can think about it is, “Dude, if you had a time machine and you went back to when the universe was born, what do you think would happen?” to which your fellow stoned-as-balls comrade responds with, “Man, I don’t know man, why do you keep asking me all these questions?” Did I mention there were dinosaurs? Did I mention that these dinosaurs had emotions and had consciences? Yep, that happened.
Soon after moving to Austin (where Terrence Mallick lives and has recently been filming segments of music festivals featuring the likes of Christian Bale and Ryan Spreading like the Clap Gosling), I met a nice chum who happens to be an intern at Mallick’s home studio. Of course, we started talking about The Tree of Life and we actually agreed considerably about the merit of the film and how it affects people. From that, I came to understand that there are three ways people responded to The Tree of Life.
1 – You didn’t get it at all and thought the movie was unwatchable (This is a very small percentage of people. Unless you were prepared and understood what you were getting yourself into, you probably didn’t see The Tree of Life).
2 – You thought it was amazing. Stupendous. A breakthrough in the evolution of man kind. Basically the equivalent of having sex with Jesus while he ascended to heaven with the original line-up from Mötley Crüe performing “Home Sweet Home” for his outro. (This was a large portion of the people who saw it and I think that has to do with their mindsets going into it. People wanted it to affect them this way, so it did.)
3 – You saw it. You were glad you experienced it. You were proud of yourself for getting through it. You immediately lost the urge to ever run a marathon or write a novel because of how accomplished you felt when the credits rolled. But you never, ever, EVER want to put yourself through that again (unless someone runs with my mom’s suggestion, then I’d think about possibly considering it.).
I fit into the third group. I felt good for seeing it. To me, it was like going to a contemporary art opening and having no idea what it was I was actually looking at, but feeling cool for being there and knowing about it in the first place. When the final scene ended and I knew that it was over, it was as if the opening score from Star Wars came on in my mind and I was untouchable. I blew up the Death Star, while being mounted by Jedi-era Carrie Fisher, and high-fiving Chewbacca. But I could never do it again. I know this sounds snooty, but you don’t see The Tree of Life – you experience it (never was there a movie worthy of so many italics).
I’m glad I experienced it, but it’s not something I would do again, although in theory being able to watch The Tree of Life a few chapters at a time, in short segments, in an environment where you actually have the ability to ask your fellow viewer, “do you have any idea what’s going on?” and actually being able to, you know, turn it off for a while and come back to it when you’ve wrapped your brain around what the hell you just witnessed, that could make the experience a little less taxing.
The Tree of Life will be talked about for years and years to come and one day it’ll be discussed in the same breath as 2001, or really anything else by Kubrick for that matter, but for now I’m fine with saying that although it wasn’t my favorite movie of the year, it did something which no other movie has done in a long time: it got a whole lot of non-cinephiles talking about what movies really are and how they affect people. For that, Mr. Mallick, we are very grateful. Well, that and the Dinosaurs.
Oh and here’s Matt’s take on the film: The Tree of Life was a neat movie.
Yep, that happened too.