THE 2011 KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL:
Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life - the film that was awarded the main prize in Cannes
2. 7. 2011 / Ema Čulík
I love film because of its power to move, to inquire, to examine and to entertain. Its emotional strength allows it to be deeply inspiring and spiritual and the greatest filmmakers have taken on the most complex and deep of human problems in this art-form.
In his The Tree of Life Terrence Malick takes on the biggest of all such questions with gusto and unbridled ambition as he seeks to inspire wonder at being a parent and indeed being a human being -- and how to do both these things honestly, lovingly and morally.
The film centres around one American family in the 1950s, headed by a brutally (and often unfairly) strict- though deeply loving - father, played by Brad Pitt with relish, as always, and his gentle and loving dreamy wife. Both parents love their three sons dearly and the film begins with a letter informing them that one of their boys has been killed at the age of nineteen.
The film floats from the parents mourning to the oldest son Jack's adulthood between details of memory -- rays of light, ripples of water, wind in the curtains, floorboards, books, flowers, elbows, tangles of hair -- and the story of Jack's growing up and his moral battle between the philosophy of goodness and honesty nurtured in him by his parents, his father's cruel hypocrisy, living in the society of his peers, and trying to just be a boy and follow the instincts that come along with that, while not upsetting his beloved angelic mother. The pace and construction of the film are true to memory in their similarity to a patchwork, the brightness of some moments and the shadowy nature of others.
Some of the film is shown from the point of view of the adult Jack as he looks back on his father's harshness with understanding and his mother's love with tenderness. The atmosphere of the family and the troubles of growing up and raising a child in this complicated world are put across sensitively and warmly. But they are but a small part of Malick's vision. From the little universe of the domestic he leaps off into the expanses of the cosmic. As the bereaved mother mourns her son and prays passionately to God for some comfort, the grass and trees turn into gorgeous abstractions of light and colour, stars and space and flames and tumbling waters. We dive into Kubrick's 2001 à la 2011.The fabulous CGI creations take us to eternity and back. This is a filmic attempt to see God himself. And one admires Malick's audacity at trying to take on such a task. Certainly much of it is very impressive but perhaps such things we were not meant to see, as the trajectory of wonder that Malick planned for us goes too high, too fast, and we end up falling back down to Earth in confusion and embarrassment.
Often the most moving stories are the ones that are on the smallest scale. They allow us to really feel the truth of a situation and in it we can maybe glimpse a small corner of eternity. In The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick puts together such small-scale truths with large-scale mysteries. He contrasts the absolutely personal and intimate with the universal and massive. It is clear that he equates the value of the family experience to the immense power and majesty of nature, the ocean, outer space. As the father says, "You are all I have and all I want to have". This idea is convincing and justified, but it did not manage to transport. The images on screen were always beautiful and moving in of themselves, but when they were piled up on top of each other, there was a danger of getting lost. Remembering the film now, the concept of cosmic volcanoes and sparkling nebulae backed by the barely audible whisper of the praying voice of the mourning mother (despite being a native English speaker I had to read the Czech subtitles throughout to understand) sounds like a beautiful and powerful combination but at the time, the jump between domestic mother and bubbling lava was a little too great to make.
Though this film might have flown a little too high at times, and its amassment of beautiful images turned at times into a slideshow of nature's majesty, still it said some truly beautiful things. "To love is the only way to be happy. If you don't love, life will slip by." This comment was the most powerful for me, and the film certainly expressed this idea, and not only that, but made us feel the truth of it. We felt it through the mother's obvious tenderness, the father's deep love buried in chastisement, the sons' constant desire to live by the principles instilled in them by their parents, or even in Malick's love for this world, despite the pain, the disasters, the way we let each other down. Love, he says, is the sincerest way to be good, to live morally in spite of the troubles of other people, of accidents, and the cruelty of nature. The family sections of the film are filled with this question - "How can I be good, when the world around me is not?" and though the abstractions and flights of fancy sometimes seemed a little off track, what they did do is add an extra depth to these problems, one that is more complex than "good vs evil". One that, though we may not have seen God himself, we did see the marvellous mystery and complexity of his world.Vytisknout
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