The Waiting is the Hardest Part: The Tree of Life

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm
Submitted By: Kevin Smith Clark
Three years.  Have you ever waited for something for three years?  We may wait five days for an Amazon order or nine months for a baby.  But in an age of Google, Skype, and “Have it Your Way,” who waits for anything?  But I remember reading it on the IMDB…The Tree of Life (2008) in production.  Terrence Malick, cinema’s most infamous recluse, the Salinger of Celluloid, the mind behind The Thin Red Line and one of my favorites, Days of Heaven, was at it again.  What was The Tree of Life?  “Who cares,” I thought, “it’s Malick, ergo, it’s going to be worth the wait.”  And because it was Malick, the wait was grueling.  2009 passed.  So did 2010.  No Tree of Life.  I kept checking in on it…I would wait for it.  Finally, it premiered at Cannes.  It won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize.  It would premier in New York and LA in late May, and would go wide in early July.  I began to count the days, yet in the back of my mind, the realist said, “this won’t play Toledo…if you want Transformers 3 in any available format, including viewmaster, it’s yours.  But you’re foolish to think this will come your way.”

It didn’t.  It never showed.  Not even in Perrysburg, the alleged high-brow section of NWOhio.  So, I had to take to matters into my own hands…there was one last hope:  Ann Arbor.  Drive an hour plus to watch a film?  That’s silly.  Is it any sillier than driving six hours for a concert, or flying cross-country to see U2?  I’ve done both of those…this trip will be way cheaper.  Oh, Ann Arbor…like Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

So, last Thursday, I made my way up US 23 with two friends to see Malick’s latest offering.  When watching Malick, it’s important to watch with people you trust…people that won’t fidget in their seats, breathe heavy sighs of disdain, or stand up and walk out.  People who are patient.  The lights dimmed, and three years of waiting was over…

I won’t go into great detail about The Tree of Life, for I feel it is something to be experienced, not described.  It does involve a family in 1950s Texas, but like most Malick films (1973’s Badlands the exception), plot isn’t important.  It’s the moments that are important.  Isn’t that how we mostly live, in the moment?  We don’t say, “I’m in act two of my life,” or I’ve never heard anyone in their last days say, “well, here’s the denouement of my story.”  I will say this: if you’re raising children, had parents who grew up in the 1950s (like mine), dealt with immeasurable grief, asked tough questions of God or even demanded answers from Him, you should experience this.

The Tree of Life has drawn comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps because special effects guru Douglas Trumbull worked on both, and the way both directors use of classical music permeate each story.  I would contend The Tree of Life is warmer, more personable than Kubrick’s cold treatment of mankind (which is Kubrickian in nature), and easier to sit through (despite having almost identical running times).  Or maybe because, like 2001, this will polarize audiences.  You either love or hate…there is no “ah, it was alright.”

Over the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of what I call “Slow Burners.”  This can apply to any piece of art (film, music, etc.) that you don’t quite get initially, but you also can’t get it out of your head (for good reasons, not because it’s “Born This Way”).  And the more you listen, watch it, the better it gets.  You have to cook it for a long, long time.  Malick only makes slow burners…beautiful, deliberately-paced, Texas-sized, well-seasoned brisket-style slow burners.  I don’t lay awake in bed chewing on Bridesmaids or Deathly Hallows Part 2 (though I enjoyed both).  But The Tree of Life saturated my soul, left me unsettled (again, in a good way), and had me going back to “check the grill.”  I look forward to a second meal.*

The morning after my trip to Ann Arbor, I found myself sitting at the laptop, and for some strange reason, I searched the movie times in my area.  There it was: Levis Commons Theaters, Perrysburg, The Tree of Life showtimes…two weeks late.  But I’ll take experience over convenience.

*For those who are sick of the Hollywood formula, I highly recommend this article


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