Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Review: The Tree of Life

You've probably heard that The Tree of Life was a cinematographic masterpiece. That the imagery alone was worth seeing. One review I read said something about how every single frame of the film could be turned into a photograph. And it's true. It was beautifully shot. I think part of that is because the bulk of the movie is set in the 1950s, and to me, aesthetics seemed cleaner in the 50s, with minimalist furniture and brightly-colored, layer-less clothing. Consequently, we get to see lovely 50s dresses and buzz-cuts in The Tree of Life -- think glamorous versions of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet or The Donna Reed Show.

As an added bonus for me, the movie was filmed in various Texas towns, including Austin. The filmmakers captured the best parts of the city: the Congress Bridge bats, the Capitol, Barton Springs. If you want to see what central Texas looks like, watch this movie!

Again, the movie was a visual treat; it was not, however, a movie for someone who wants a clear and meaningful story. In the beginning, I thought I knew where the producers were taking me. Although the narrative was nonlinear, I had a fairly strong sense of what was going on. It was the story of a 1950s Texas family and a son who questioned God. The relationships between husband and wife and parents and children was a type of God and Christ and God and His children. In a larger way, it was a story about the opposing themes of justice and mercy. Sure, they were complex topics for one movie, but until the end, they held up pretty well. About two-thirds into it, though, the story fell apart. The writers and producers lost their focus along the way, or perhaps they tried to explore too many religious themes.

I wouldn't have minded the breakdown in the story so much, except that at the point when the story started to collapse, the filmmakers started to get pretentious. Religious themes became more overt than necessary, and the questioning son even had some lines that tried too hard to be "deep." I also wonder if the filmmakers thought, "Hey, this thing is turning out really well . . . We're making an incredible visual movie, and the plot is lofty enough to match. We're gooood." They got cocky and thought the last big scenes would just wrap themselves up, and audiences wouldn't mind flimsy narrative ends.

But we did. Well, I did. And I know for a fact that my friends who watched it with me did. Perhaps I'm trying to impose meaning on something that doesn't have one . . . That might change everything. Still, the bottom line is that I'd watch the first half of this movie again, but I will never finish it, nor will I buy it.

Thing I'm thankful for: seeing faculty bring their babies to campus


Anonymous Blake said...

Cinematography alone does not a great movie make. Just ask 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4:35 PM  

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