The Tree of Life; Less is so much More.

After a week and a half back here in the “real” world, I have had ample time to catch up on things I missed: the meaningless television shows I download that are essentially my bi-weekly Halcion dose and then the movies I have missed and films people seem to be talking about.

Television and movies serve very different purposes in my life and exist in unique categories.  Television, as I stated earlier is a sedative for me. I literally download shows that I do not care about at all in order to numb-out and not have to be responsible for my own thoughts for 45 minutes. Disgusting; I agree.  But a level of existence I allow myself to sink into two or three times a week.

Movies on the other hand are a passion and when I consume cinema my mental state is actually heightened.  I do not numbly slime through a movie, I devour it.  Even crap films (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; the personification of shit on the silver screen) rate my attention.  Everything in movies is worth notice.  Editing, acting, cinematography, score, direction and the story in general all fascinate me and imagining how these various aspects came together and finally ended up in the finished format is something I contemplate even while viewing.

What this has done in my life over the last several years is something worth explaining.  First, I have come to appreciate T.V. that’s totally absurd.  The more bloated, obscene and ridiculous the better.  My favorite shows are also the most horrible ones on television; True Blood, Spartacus, Game of Thrones.  All action based. All overly developed with production far beyond what is necessary. All with plenty of mindless dialogue and polarizing characters with all the originality of a game show host eating a bowl of oatmeal.

But that’s the point.

For T.V. that is what I want.  “Yeah hurry up, drink her blood and let those lesbians set each other on fire, I need to zone out here.”  Mission accomplished.

The flip side to this incestuous dichotomy is that, bizarrely, as time has elapsed, my taste in film has shifted further and further away from what I look for in T.V. and has at this point settled down into my almost total obsession with a complete stripping down in every aspect of a movie and bringing to the screen the most minimalistic, bare version of the project one intended.

I’m not saying I want a slide show of the story boards or anything.  What I want is the most concise, trim and athletic version of the completed project.  That’s it.

This is the tragedy in the end with Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree of Life”.

What could have been an incredibly powerful story about a family in a suburban 1950’s town and a potent discussion about the meaning of life and the often arbitrary decimation of loss is flooded with, and finally drowned in, Malick’s waves of pretentious, predictable filler…which apparently he and everyone else is calling “art”.

It’s the worse case of bells and whistles, duct taped to the second-hand bike the poor kid in your click was given by the Salvation army Santa, I’ve encountered in a long time.

The basic plot summary is simple enough:  A middle class family in the 1950’s.  An endearing and doting mother.  An overly stern yet decent father.  Three brothers.  Later in life, one of the brothers dies early, at 19 years old.  Present day, another brother, is still coping with that loss and the unanswered questions of his childhood and likely of his manhood as well.

To make such a seemingly simple yet deceptively complex story into a meaningful film would take real genuine talent, and Malick had that in “The Tree of Life”.  Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. Production and post production crews; all top-notch.  So all the pieces were in place for a story with meaning.  Something decisive and powerful. Delivering the elements of the plot subtly in the sort of way that only the truly gifted in cinema can do.

This however was not to be.  Instead of a powerful, under the radar depiction of life and loss and things left unanswered, what we got, what I had to sit through, was the ridiculous bastard hybrid of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park and Stand By Me.

Long sprawling visuals possibly depicting the beginning of the universe, a waterfall, some mud boiling (deep…so deep…), followed by awkwardly angled shots of sleepy babies eyes and sunsets and Brad Pitt scowling.  Then some dinosaurs.  Some more waterfalls and the cosmos.  Pitt scowling again. Chastain washes her slender feet, creepily caresses her sons face. She stares blankly. Chastain levitates around the front yard à la Trent Reznor in the  music video “Closer”. The Cosmos. Young boys flirt with the dark side and smash in some innocent window panes. A waterfall. Some hammer-head sharks.

In fact, if one piped in some Cold Play, this would make a decent music video.  That’s what it feels like while watching it.

Aside from being completely misogynistic, and portraying females as totally angelic and useless, the movie seems to suffer from the same lack of commitment and attention, the inability of people today to pay attention to anything for very long.  The editing moves around too freely and just when a character begins to develop, there’s another waterfall or a cosmic montage or some boiling mud.  It’s all sadly predictable, utterly pretentious and effectively devoid of any point.

Shame on The Cannes film festival for bestowing so much praise and shame on Roger Ebert for enjoying this silly eye-sore.  Granted, I come to this movie with precious little nostalgia for my own childhood, let alone the idealized bucolic fantasy childhood depicted in this film.  Is this a prerequisite to seeing past all the swollen, obese unnecessary filler that plagues a viewer at every turn? If so I can hardly call that Masterful film making.

Finally, if something makes no statement, if its point is to have no point and to declare nothing, than what is it’s value?  To be taken seriously, one must take a stand.  The only groups that seem to believe that no point is an acceptable agenda are the art world, the elitists, and this helps to remind me why they are, and always have been, a total laughing-stock and completely replaceable.

“The Tree of Life” is in the end, a waste of time and talent.

Time for some True Blood.

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