Film: The Tree of Life

I was on the New York Times website this morning and spotted an ad for the yet to be released movie ‘Tree of Life’ by enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick.

This is the trailer:

Secrecy surrounding this film has (unsurprisingly) been strong. It reportedly incorporates science fiction and fantasy elements. Visual effects artist Mike Fink revealed in March ’09 to Empire Magazine that he was working on scenes of a prehistoric earth for the film. Empire magazine’s website quoted Mike as saying that a version of the film will be released for IMAX cinemas along with two versions for traditional cinemas. Another website has reported that the separate IMAX film will depict the death and birth of the universe. Sounds delightfully odd.

Here’s an official synopsis released at the 2010 American Film Market:

From the Desk of Terrence Malick…..

We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world’s way of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

From this story is that of adult Jack, a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our world’s preparation, each thing appears a miracle—precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.

The story ends in hope, acknowledging the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family—our first school—the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover life’s single most important lesson, of unselfish love.

Judging by the language in this and the trailer, I’d say Terrence Malick is almost certainly a mystic , עץ החיים …. references to father and mother, like the father(masculine) and mother(feminine) creative forces battling for supremacy in the human psyche…all sounds very familiar (another recent film to explore this polarity, albeit in a very different way, was Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Wasn’t really convinced).

Tree of Life sounds like it might even embody  the classic “hero’s journey” that mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote of.

Cinematographer Emanuel “Chivo” Lubezki told 24 Frames (LA Times) in an interview, “It’s like no set I ever worked on”:

“Photography is not used to illustrate dialogue or a performance,” Chivo said.” “We’re using it to capture emotion so that the movie is very experiential. It’s meant to trigger tons of memories, like a scent or a perfume. [full aticle here]

Hmmm. Sounds ambitious, and potentially disastrous,  if attempted by anyone less than a master of the form. But some distinguished critics regard Malick’s films as amongst the greatest ever made. His fans often remark on his strength as a visual and symbolic storyteller.

Here’s a little bit about Malick’s pre-film life (wikipedia):

Malick studied philosophy under Stanley Cavell at Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965. He went on to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After a disagreement with his adviser, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of the world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Malick left Oxford without a doctorate degree. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick’s translation of Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. Moving back to the United States, Malick taught philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist. He wrote articles for Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Life.

Going back now to re-familiarise myself with Mr Malick’s films, among them:

1973         Badlands

1978         Days of Heaven

1998         The Thin Red Line

2005         The New World

Cinema is probably the perfect medium for the, well, “spiritual” artist. I for one am curious. It’ll be interesting to see how well this auteur pulls off his latest creation.

P.S. Just for fun…. whilst searching for the trailer on Youtube, I found this fan-vid combining clips from some classic Malick movies and the song (Time) The Revelator’ by Gillian Welch. One of my favourite songs. Was nice to hear it again 🙂 Also nice to see a young Martin Sheen…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s