Film Review: ‘The Tree of Life’


To be honest, this is more of a purge than a review. Since I saw The Tree of Life (2011) in a sweaty London screening room two weeks ago it has infected me with dread . I have attempted to write this article no less than seven times but on every occasion I have been filled with the overwhelming urge to stick a hot fork in my eye rather than continue.

The temptation to ramble on about this film is heavy indeed. A cursory web search will reveal hundreds of pages of reviews spitting bile or singing praise and if you feel the urge for in depth analysis then happy Googling and God speed.

I want to keep things as simple as possible and if that casts doubt on my critical faculties, so be it.So here’s the thing. Everybody should watch The Tree of Life (2011).

Not because it’s enthralling, entertaining or laden with meaning. It’s none of those things. In fact it’s easily one of the most tediously boring, self absorbed, bloated and pretentious films I have ever seen. I would rather eat my own face then sit through another screening, and if the rumours of a six hour directors cut are true, I finally know what the walls of Hell are made of.

I went along to the show with a colleague and when we left the auditorium the first words he said to me were, “Well, that was definitely an artistic masterpiece,” and you know, he was right.

You don’t have to like a piece of art to appreciate the artists vision. Terrence Malick has created a beautiful and ambitious meditation on memory, childhood and the nature of being. Using the marquee names of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn he has managed to sneak an experimental art house film into mainstream cinemas, and for that trick alone you have to admire the man’s intelligence.

For some viewers it will be a revelatory experience. They will ponder the philosophical questions Malick is posing and find meaning in every frame. Others, including myself, will think he’s revealing nothing new and you can find meaning in the telephone book if you really want to find it.

All art is subjective, as the old saying goes, and that is exactly the reason I want you to go and see it. I am not saying a word about the plot or how well the roles were played. You need to experience it with a fresh pair of eyes and I guarantee that when you leave the show you are either going to be mesmorised or foaming at the mouth and an artist wants exactly that, what they don’t want is indifference.

In a round about way the Tree of Life is similar to the Human Centipede II (2011) they are just at different ends of the spectrum. Neither are an enjoyable watch but both provoke a reaction. Does Malick aspire to greater things than odious Centipede director Tom Six? Of course he does, and this, I think, is the reason why The Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or. I hope so anyway. If they awarded the prize because they genuinely enjoyed the film the jury should be sewn ass to mouth and be forced to star in the Human Centipede III.

Lee Cassanell