Terrence Malick has made himself some films, yes he has, yes he has. His film making range lies somewhere in between unintentional masterpiece and reluctant masterpiece. With Tree of Life, the jig is up, much like a drug addict mishandling their compulsive lies. Not only does Malick try to make a masterpiece, he seems pretty intent on projecting the fact that he is trying to make a masterpiece.
Anyone who’s honest with himself will tell you that Malick’s previous film, 2005’s The New World, had a certain waft about it. It wasn’t a total misfire but there was certainly just a little something not quite right about it. I think the end product of The New World is something that Malick should have taken a step back from during editing, if not the writing of it, maybe reassess and tighten up the story he was trying to tell.
In Tree of Life, Terrence Malick is able to both capture the world of a young man growing up, and present it to us in a way that is both original for film and familiar to the soul. The bulk of the movie takes place in the 1950’s, a time that I have no experience with, and yet the scenarios, actions, and the way that the main character of the young boy see’s the world feel so familiar.
Tree of Life wanders, but it wanders in such a way that it doesn’t frustrate the viewer in the moment, because you know you’re in the hands of a great storyteller. The frustration sets in sometime after the end credits roll and you ask yourself… why were those pieces put together?
Somewhere in Tree of Life, there is a wonderful film, it’s just that the product Malick has delivered to us is less than the some of its excellent parts.