Retrospective Review: Tree of Life (2011)

Even someone who has gotten a whiff of “Knight of Cups” over the last three or so odd years certainly has no idea what’s in store. There’s no insider information being tapped into, it’s just that the name Terrence Malick should automatically trigger something in every filmgoer’s hippocampus. Promising Hollywood hedonism to the max, coupled with the evocative visuals of Emmanuel Lubezki, this film will be divisive, functioning outside the realm of any normal, everyday convention. Since Malick seems to exist in his own realm, the only way to even comprehend him is to look at his work. This is not a claim that “Knight of Cups” will be anything like its predecessors, but a film such as “Tree of Life” does suggest a bit about the man behind the camera.

“Tree of Life” towers as his resplendent modern masterpiece stretching out over the cinematic landscape with monumental audacity. At its most basic element it depicts the creation of life, while in the same breath telling a humble tale of adolescence. Lubezki’s cinematography becomes the delicious fruit dangling in front of the viewer. The world and its majesty can hardly be comprehended with poetry or prose. Words seemingly pale in comparison to what images can tell us of all that exists constantly, continually in every stratosphere of creation. Life is, and will continue to be, a story of birth, growth and finally, ceasing to be.

Malick is at home with a meandering plot, because it gives way to something far more compelling. Here is a film about the essence of life as vast as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (1968) and as human as Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” (2014). Call him enlightened, experimental, or even absolutely abysmal, but you cannot, for one moment, consider Terrence Malick derivative. Oftentimes it’s as if he’s grappling with topics on a completely alternate plane of understanding, pushing the cinematic language to greater heights. It means he does falter from time to time, but then again, that’s what happens when you write outside the lines.

Photo Courtesy of Infinite Crescendo