Saturday, March 31, 2012
It's hard to argue with an artist. Terrence Malick is an artist. He can be maddening and intimidating. You take his guff because he gives the goods.
I will thank Mister Malick for saying what he had to say and not talking down to his audience. I will ask him why he felt the need to bring me up to speed on the formation of the universe. It looked beautiful, undeniably so. I understood what I was watching. I even felt awe briefly. I think I saw God without a face. Then it kept going and going. I will admit that I needed the voice over to break up the beauty. I was waiting through the beats of evolution and time for a human voice to break through. I was waiting for Miss Jessica Chastain and Mister Brad Pitt (their performances a wonderful dichotomy of restraint and intensity respectively) to return to view.
The goods was the human story. I didn't grow up like the eldest boy in the film. My mother and my father didn't raise me in the same manner, but I will tell you quite honestly that I was struck by how true this loose narrative was. Terrence Malick knows what its like to be a son, to be a brother, and to be a boy. I recognized myself in Young Jack. If I'm to believe Adult Jack is recounted through a loose, disjointed trip down his childhood memory lane (and I believe I am), then this is the way to do it. At once immediate and distant like a memory, the journey is wonderfully executed.
Malick can be a poet. In fact, I would say he's more a poet than a filmmaker. It's not a slight. I just can't understand how someone can write The Tree of Life. Honestly, it had to appear on the page more as poetry than the format of a script. A moment is a moment and changes to the next. The cuts are quick and artfully seamless. I was prepared to hail the herculean triumph of a single editor, but the film's IMDB page credits five editors. It remains a supremely edited movie. It's the sum of whispers of moments, at once memorable and fleeting.
I was hearing Christopher Plummer's voice in my head throughout the movie. Plummer has said that he'll never work with Malick again, and Malick overwrites everything to the point of pretentiousness. I saw his point, but respectfully counter with "if that's overwriting, what's underwriting?" Malick is full of big ideas and a grand vision, but I can say with certainty that each word audible in The Tree of Life (though numbering a relative few compared to, say, Aaron Sorkin's works) matters immensely and is always meaning more than what we hear. There's a strange economy to his dialogue. It is art. It screams skill. How else could he write a film both bombastic showy and utterly basic?