Last night I found myself debating whether to go see The Tree of Life this weekend. This would be the fourth time that I’ve seen it; in other words, 50% of the movies I’ve seen this summer have been The Tree of Life. Is it time for an intervention?
I’m amazed that there are people who have actually written coherently and thoughtfully about the film, while I can’t seem to get beyond a semi-orgasmic or possibly Pentecostal “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I’m addicted to this movie, even while I hover over it protectively, occasionally discouraging people from seeing it because I don’t want to hear their critiques of its length, lack of narrative, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I can’t write about it in the way I might write about another film, because I experience it in a way that is unlike my experience of any other film. And yes, I’m including all of Malick’s earlier films in this category. If you know much about me and my relationship to movies, you know how much I love every film that Terrence Malick has ever made (Okay, I only recently learned of a student film that I haven’t seen, but will turn that into my next Grail). You may even know that, until this summer, Days of Heaven was my favorite film; the one film that I have never been able to bring myself to show in a film class because I couldn’t bear to hear any complaints from students about it being “boring” (I’ve had many brilliant students over the years, but there are always one or two who unabashedly expect to be entertained all semester). So yes, as I readily admit, I worship at the church of the holy Malick.
But this is different. The first time I saw The Tree of Life, I sat breathless and stunned when it was over, completely overwhelmed by feelings of what? Peace, grief, joy, wonder, nostalgia, longing? Yes, all that and more. With each subsequent viewing, those feelings have only intensified. I want to describe it as a beautiful film, but perhaps the Victorian concept of the sublime would be more accurate. Like Malick’s other films, the natural world plays a leading role in The Tree of Life, but it is a natural world filled not only with beauty, but also with awe, majesty, and more than a little terror.
I have to confess that I’m completely amazed that the film is still showing in Chicago after more than two months. I really expected that the other Malick geeks and I would all scurry to see it in the first week, and maybe it would linger for a second week, but then it would be gone. But no, clearly this movie is resonating with a lot of people (or else, like myself, the same few keep going back to it over and over). I’m not going to tell you to go see it because, as I’ve already confessed, I don’t want to hear about why you didn’t like it. But if you want to take a chance on having a profound and moving cinematic experience, go ahead. Don’t wait for the DVD—I can’t even imagine how terrible it would be to watch the creation of the universe sequence on a small screen. Go ahead and see it; you may even find yourself afterwards viewing the world around you with the sense of wonder of the child you used to be. And now I’m going to sign off, go outside and look at the trees, the sky, the cosmos. And tomorrow or the next day, I’m going back to see The Tree of Life again.