Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life is so far removed from our current understanding of cinema and storytelling that the film becomes new genre and art form in and of itself. Rather than following generic plot structures, The Tree of Life moves as a fragmented palimpsest, exposing the intimacy of mind, thought, and memory. The Tree of Life emerges from the impressions of the entangled mind, producing a film that is aerial and surreal to a near hypnotic state. Jack O’Brien, played consciously by Sean Penn, ventures into his remembrances to elucidate a childhood transgressed. Jack’s mind is a haunted one, seeking recollection of a flawed boyhood. His memories of his youth are natural and raw, displaying an imitated life that garners intimacy and authenticity as it is remembered. The film works like a mind—it is restless, questioning, rejecting, vulnerable, and expanding; its pace is similar to a beating heart, pulsating steadily with quiet yet cardinal segments of life.

One of the film’s most exceptional feats is its realization of the exhaustingly nuanced and fragile relationship between child and mother/child and father—two attachments that are undeniably disparate. Jack’s mother, forever preserved in memory, is an ethereal creature—a seraphic delineation of femininity and maternity. Mrs. O’Brien, played devastatingly by Jessica Chastain, glides through Jack’s memory like Madonna or Aphrodite, her pale neck forever draped in pearls, her florid hair flushed in curls. Mrs. O’Brien exists by way of grace, her movements and gestures slowed to a meditative pace as she twirls with her child in her arms and wholeheartedly points up to the sky, telling the child that God lives there. The boys bond with their mother through heart and conscience, clutching to her for reassurance of love and innocence. Jack holds a memory that serves as the film’s most beautiful and haunting scene—a sight of Mrs. O’Brien dancing on air, her pink limbs stretching outward with grace. A scene in which Mrs. O’Brien holds out a porcelain hand to welcome a butterfly illuminates the way in which the young boys capture their mother through memory: gentle, fragile, gossamer recollections of a fluttering mother.

Mr. O’Brien is not remembered with awe as Mrs. O’Brien is. Instead, the memories of Mr. O’Brien are hollow and dour, displaying a man that exists by way of nature, running on discipline and frowned authority. Mr. O’Brien is perhaps the film’s most nuanced character in that he is preserved in Jack’s mind as an unmoved man, yet in our viewing of these cold memories, vulnerability is exposed that Jack has not yet uncovered. Mr. O’Brien harbors a difficult task, trying to raise three young boys to become brave, diligent men. Mr. O’Brien appears to be haunted and heartbroken by this responsibility, aware of the fact that he, himself, is not the brave and diligent man he is raising his sons to be. Mr. O’Brien is a lost man, regretting time passed and refusing weakness. He sees his sons as his future, a chance to enforce his perception of man: an unflinching being in a wounded world. Despite his sternness, it is eminent that he is consumed with love for his boys, but is unsure of how to cede that devotion. Mr. O’Brien’s vulnerability is clearest in a scene in which he grabs his wife’s arms and holds them furiously as she writhes beneath his aggressive containment. He presses his face to her flushed hair, whispering for her to stop, as his hands loosen and intimately hold her weakened arms. Mr. O’Brien knows only force, knows only truth, knows only right from wrong. In this scene, we see him struggling to know love and comfort, and it is heartbreaking to witness his detachment from the way of grace.

The boys in the film are boys in the purest sense—Malick has captured something fleeting and rare that makes the film’s viewers feel more like voyeurs. Curious eyes and fumbled gestures, these boys are not acting, they are living. They run around with wild imaginations, imitating life and people around them. The boys wrestle with guilt and fear, while having the wonderful ability to get lost in a world of play and curiosity. After sneaking into the neighbor’s house, Jack opens a woman’s drawer, pulling out a lace nightgown. He lays it down on the bed, examining it as if it were a living, breathing object. The guilt that ensues is devastating, as we watch a young boy’s nervous discovery of sensuality and desire. Jack looks away, tears in his eyes, whispering for his mother not to look at him: his first recollection of shame. Childhood is ephemeral, and tends to race by too quickly to be acknowledged or cherished, and Malick has carefully grasped a collection of penetrating moments of boyhood that extend beyond the film itself and touch us in a way that few films can.

The Tree of Life is not something that can be contained in a review or recreated through procedure. The film is precise, yet has no rewritable structure or process, making it enviably individual. Filled more with detail than story, the film has the ability to be watched continuously without losing effect or impact—the film will forever push inward, enforcing a cathartic reaction. Its images are not trivial ones, each shot staining the mind—a unique form of inception that plays with the unforgettable.

images via google

10 Films

I am spontaneous and impulsive when it comes to falling in love with film, but as of now, these are my top ten.

images via google

Me revoilà!

Hello all, I just wanted to announce my return to Lots of Lovely... parting was such sweet sorrow and I cannot wait to get back to my blogging!

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