Having managed to evade the one ‘Tree of Life’ trailer that was making the rounds after Cannes, and the many publicity shots that production companies were churning out, I decided before I saw the film, to check out the comments of the Cannes Jury as to why they selected the film for the Palme D’Or.

‘I can’t really go into all the specifics. Most of us felt very clear it was the movie, it had the size, the importance, the intention, it seemed to fit the prize.’ – Jury President Robert De Niro said at the press conference.  
And it was from that moment, I began to worry for the film.
If Robert De Niro doesn’t even refer to the acting in the film, or the narrative, or the direction – but simply fumbles around for a handful of descriptive words that wouldn’t be out of place on a film poster –  then this film will have difficulty with the general public.

To even attempt to describe the plot of Tree of Life is a task in itself.  For most of the film there isn’t a specific plot, instead we are subjected to abstract images, powerful and deliberately deep scenes on the creation of the universe.  And right , smack bang in the middle, is this interesting story of a domineering Brad Pitt, and his wife and children that actually is engaging but doesn’t ever reveal or give as much as it should.   

But I shouldn’t be too surprised should I?  I mean, Director Terence Malik has a deliberate style that is slow paced and full of symbolism – so the lack of a coherent plot is a given when you enter his films.  But at the media screening I attended, two ladies walked out of the cinema just 7 mins into the screening.  I am certain they were expecing a standard narrative film , that screens every other day at the cinema, but that they felt that the sight of volcanic eruptions, waves crashing, dinosaurs roaming were not part of their agreement with the film.

I almost never view a film’s trailer before seeing the movie, or research aspects of it in advance, but Tree of Life doesn’t play within the rules. To see Tree of Life, you have to be open and accepting that this film is floating on a completely different level, that it is about grief and the beauty of the universe, that it in no way represents anything else in cinema this year or in the previous decade.

A significant amount of “Tree of Life” made me think of  ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ , in particular the opening 35 minutes or so of ‘The Dawn of Man’ sequence.  Mesmerising. Confusing.   And throughout the film I was waiting, for a more accessible plot or subplot that I could invest in. But it never came.  

Tree of Life is an astounding vision by Terence Malik. But that does not make it a great film. Sometimes a film’s beauty can be encapsulated into a scene, or a few shots.   Malik’s vision and deeply powerful imagery outlives its welcome after 20 minutes, leaving a film that meanders along trying to impress with concepts and ideas.  It may have fitted the overall concept of ‘THE film’ to win the Palme D’Or, but to the occasional movie goer it misses much, much more than it hits.

Score:  1 star
Rhett Bartlett
Reviewed: 2011