The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Picture – The Tree of Life

by Rachel · February 10, 2012 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 11 Comments
Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventeenth of a 32-part series dissecting the 84th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

By Dylan of Man, I Love Films Dan of Fogs’ Movie Reviews

The Tree of Life is a polarizing film. 

It inspires passion, awe and affection in its supporters, contempt and scorn from its detractors. I’ve seen it on LAMB blogs as the Best Film of the Year. I’ve seen it on LAMB Blogs as the Worst Film of the Year. Few people fall in-between. 
I love the film, personally. Yet I have to recommend it carefully to people, forewarning them that there’s a very good chance they won’t care for it. I say things like, “It’s not for eveyone”, or “IF you connect with it it’s great”. I have to. It ISN’T for everyone. It’s an extraordinarily challenging film that asks more of the viewer than perhaps any movie I’ve ever seen. You need to be patient, open minded, and willing to work.  
Malick has created a film which challenges the medium. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, or an E.E. Cummings poem, “The Tree of Life” completely ignores the “standard definition” of what a film should be. Movie requisites such as plot and narrative structure? Gone. It’s dialogue free for great portions. It’s unmoored in time and perspective, and free to show whatever it wishes. It focuses on images as opposed to events, flashing long, free flowing strings of fascinating imagery in between the scenes with dialogue and plot points. The unwilling will reject it. Without the standard boundaries and framings, many people will refuse to accept it immediately. Still others, even with the willingness to be open to it, will fail to draw meaning from its montages and mysticism and fall by the wayside as well. But if you accept that this is a fillm which intends to provoke thought as opposed to convey thoughts, a film that sets out to inspire as opposed to inform, a movie that wants to leave you with questions more than it does with answers, then you stand a good chance of finding it as profound and moving as I did. 
Interpretations will vary, and part of the joy of the movie is deriving your own meaning from it. My personal impressions and what I took away from it are below. I’m not putting it forth as any sort of definitive interpretation; it’s what the film meant to me, and an example of the level of thought this film can provoke.

It’s my belief that the “point of view” in the film isn’t that of Hunter McCracken / Sean Penn at all.
It’s God’s.
As the nonlinear, nearly free form montages of imagery of the movie flashed by me, it occured to me that the movie’s style was reminiscent of memories. Inexact. Impressionistic. Irrational. Emotional. Why do I remember THIS moment and not THAT moment? Is that even how it HAPPENED, or is that just how I FELT? The scary, the sweet, the meaningless. Flashes. The Sean Penn / Hunter McCracken character bookends seemed to strengthen my view… these are Penn’s recollections of being a child. But the famed dinosaurs and the “creation of the universe” sequence needed to be accounted for. If this is a view of life illustrated by the recollections of someone’s life, then… what’s with the dinosuars?
It was when I was working through the nature/nuture element of the film that it struck me that I might not be watching a person’s memories, but God’s.
Much has been made of the fact that Pitt’s stern father character represents the harsh nature of survival – the cruelty inherent in the struggle to survive. And Chastain’s character is representative of “grace”, the beauty and wonder of life. Correlations have been drawn between the family (representing humanity) and nature, with the basic equation being that Humans are cruel, yet beautiful because nature is cruel, yet beautiful. It was an easy jump for me to think well, with all the whispering questions regarding God… shouldnt the full equation be Humans are cruel, yet beautiful because nature is cruel, yet beautiful, because GOD is cruel yet beautiful?
Well, that line of thinking led me to Deify the movie’s perspective. It answered too many questions not to be at least partially valid (for me). So what I began to imagine was not a man remembering his questions about God, but God remembering a questioning boy/man. Assuming an omniscient God, the memories of a single person wouldn’t be inaccesible… And it led me to so many interesting questions I didn’t want to abandon it. What ARE God’s memories? Are they inexact and random like ours? Are they muddled and impressionistic, too? What if God was more like us than we think… and he/she/it doesn’t know what to make of it all either? Perhaps God questions its own existence as well… examines its own history for meaning, or has regrets or fond memories… Maybe, just like us, God is trying to figure out what the %#$& is going on.  
I certainly didn’t arrive at any answers for myself, but it led me to such fascinating questions that I didn’t care.
And that’s the greatness in The Tree of Life. Much like life itself, it’s confusing, mysterious, wondrous, frightening. inscrutibale, and ultimately… beautiful.

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11 Responses to The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Picture – The Tree of Life

  1. That’s some deep stuff Dan! And certainly a very possible explanation. I’m just glad that the academy recognized that they had something special here, even if they didn’t understand all of it.

  2. TheVern says:

    I have seen this movie twice, and I never thought of looking at it through that persepective. Now I want to check it out again. Great review.

  3. Wow Vern. That’s a really cool compliment.

    I’m sure you’ll find something new to ponder if you do watch it again… even if you DONT come at it from that direction. I mean, that movie is a total think piece. Hope you do check it out and enjoy it just as much as you did the first time!

  4. S says:

    Great post about one of the bravest directors this year in putting together such an abstract film. Perhaps it’s all a flash of life; you know that flash when your life passes before your eyes kind of thing. Maybe it illustrates what could be and the movie title is a call to action to grow like a tree in any direction you can because LIFE is beautiful and cruel. Nice and deep post as NTEMP said earlier.

  5. Thanks S! Glad you found it and checked it out!

    Yeah, hey, listen. If you’re going to write up this flick, you gotta dive into the “deep” end. You know? There’s no plot… you’re basically forced to find meaning, because that’s what the film is about!

    “Abstract” is an excellent word choice for it.

    The whole “Flashing before your eyes” idea is exactly what I was getting at… except I started thinking… what if this is GOD’S LIFE flashing before IT’S eyes…

    LOL. That’s when I REALLY started tripping out!!

  6. Dave Enkosky says:

    Fascinating review. I hadn’t really thought of the film as God’s perspective before. It makes some sense. Honestly, as much as I loved the film (and it was one of my favorite movies last year), I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I merely let the sights and sounds, and feelings wash over me. I couldn’t really explain why I liked it; I just did.

  7. I think I couldnt resist. I was confused… and thus forced to try to make sense of it, and then this is where I wound up. LOL.

    But you could do worse than letting the sights, sounds, etc wash over you on this one… It’s a beautiful film without a doubt.

  8. Joel Burman says:

    Nice take Dan, it actually makes some sense I think and I’ll definitively keep it in mind if I decide to revisit it.

  9. LOL. Thanks Shep.

    I got that going for me… Hey. At least I made SOME sense.

    😀 😀

  10. EFC says:

    Love the God theory, Dan, even if I ultimately disagree (respectfully) with it. I say that only because I’m a stubborn fool clutching to his Sean Penn’s POV belief, even in the light of your great interpretation, but I certainly felt that way about Malick’s Thin Red Line — total God-Vision right there.

    Doesn’t matter what I think, though, because ultimately Malick is leaving it for us to interpret in our own way, which is just one of the many awesome things about his films. You’re interpretation is just as awesome and valid as mine and anyone else’s — except those who hated it, we don’t have time for those guys. 😉

    But I think that’s the beauty of Malick’s work, how personal it can be to those who are open to them beyond a purely entertaining level. It’s excellent stuff — just like your piece on Tree of Life.

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