Tree of Life - a review

When a few months back I first saw the trailer for Tree of Life, I thought something along the lines of: “If that film is only half as good as the trailer, it must be fucking fantastic!”. If my life was a screenplay, you could file that as foreshadowing in the first act.

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the premiere here in Austria a few days ago and I was expecting, well, a lot. And as great expectations go, they are bound to go unfulfilled (here’s some more, less subtle, foreshadowing for you). Now, it would have been easy for the film to please me, because I really wanted to like it. I’d been going on and on about the film, in conversations with other people and on my other blog. I’d read about what some reviewers had called the very spiritual aspect of the film, and even though I’m not exactly spiritual, let alone religious, I thought that I could let that slide for the sake of the complete package.

As it turned out, I couldn’t.

The film starts off great, with nuanced performances and beautiful camerawork and even though there was a lengthy piece of creation footage which felt a bit like a high budget version of a National Geographic documentary, I was still sure I could really like that film. But then came the whispering. THE WHISPERING! Off screen voices just kept rambling on and on about nature and grace and every pretentious notion pertaining to these concepts you could think of. And directly addressing the “Lord” too. Which, I thought, was probably just part of the concept. Surely, the nature part, the science of things (and stuff) would get some more weight in the course of the film too. Well, it didn’t. And I’m still mad at every reviewer out there who didn’t pounce on the fact that this is ultimately an extremely and utterly Christian film.

Not just the open verbal references to God, but also the iconography that dominated throughout the film. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but hell, can you really get any more blatantly Christian than portraying the female protagonist as some sort of Mary mother of God?

Now, not everything was bad, and that’s the real shame here. Actually, a lot of things were brilliant. There were great observations of family dynamics, fantastic images and sometimes awe-inspiring work done with the music, but it was all ruined by a sophomoric approach to religion, spirituality and death.

Terrence Malick knows how to make good films, but with Tree of Life, he didn’t give us one film, he gave us two: one about a family in the 50s, which by all accounts would have been a touching piece, and another about spirituality and creation which should have been scrapped and shown in mega-churches all over the US instead. I’m sure that would have been a great success.