Criterion Prediction #100: The Tree of Life, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Tree of Life
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn, Tye Sheridan, Michael Keith
Synopsis: A reflection of life, love, loss, childhood, and parenthood through the eyes of Jack, who after the death of his brother looks back on his upbringing in Texas during the 1950s. Memories of his sometimes-tyrannical father, saintly mother, and his two brothers leads him to ponder the nature of existence and the creation of the world.
Critique: There are an endless interpretations to take from Malick’s 2011 film, and in describing its technical structure and artistic temperament, I feel like my oft-mentioned refrain “life as an elliptical montage” is a suitable description. Terrence Malick is, of course, a special case in the league of notable directors. He’s singular, artistic, elusive, and after what used to be an erratic output, it seems like technology caught up with the artist. Seeing as his first four films came out over a span of thirty years, then following his collaboration with Lubezki, the advent of handheld cameras and mobile shooting technology opened up his range of creative expression which seems to have suited his freewheeling sense of discovery that begets his airy explorations.
The Tree of Life is a film without a beginning or an end, a product of a noted recluse is disarmingly revealing in its autobiographical account of a family in Texas during the 1950’s, which also serves as a springboard for the creation of the world and the evolution of well…everything? Malick’s expansive scope doesn’t reach beyond his grasp; here his collaboration with special effects virtuoso Doug Trumbull yields some truly hypnotizing images of nebulas and smoldering planets. I admire the level of ambition in the film, and realizing the heady connection of all life stemming to and from a personal experience it comes close to congealing, but with so many repeated viewings, the dinosaurs feel awkward.
The Tree of Life is a staggering achievement. Malick finds a brilliant cast as his surrogate family in the tradition of the films before it, headlined by actors like Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Pitt lends a dynamic charge to a powerful character; but (at the time) it was the relative newcomer Jessica Chastain, and, like Linda Manz in Days of Heaven, Hunter McCracken that steal the show.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: With certain directors, their titles coming into The Criterion Collection is only a matter of time, and having broken into Malick’s post-2000 work with beautiful release of The New World, it stands to reason that The Tree of Life is the next viable successor for the Criterion treatment.
I’m not sure where Voyage of Time lands, but as of now half of the director’s feature films have spine numbers. If Criterion were to treat Malick as they have with Wes Anderson, who’s practically grandfathered into their distribution model, it would be great to see the same happen with Knight of Cups, Song to Song, and hey, even To the Wonder (nobody’s perfect).
*100 Predictions! Thanks for reading!