Another review, but shorter this time. I saw Terrence Malick’s latest movie “The Tree of Life” the other night. Malick is a famously reclusive film director, a former philosophy student and translator of Heidegger, who made one of my favourite movies “The Thin Red Line” back in 1998. (Anyone who hasn’t seen but is intending to watch The Tree of Life needn’t fear: I’m only going to focus on one small aspect of the movie.)
His latest offering is a family drama that revolves around a typical American family of the 50s and the childhoods of their three sons. For those familiar with Malick’s style, it offers the usual ruminative and reflective cinematography, with the director’s obsession with the sun and skyscapes even more evident than in previous offerings (if Turner were alive today, he’d make movies like Malick). Going on the evidence of his films, Malick appears to be a kind of Pantheist, a worshipper of “Nature”, and a man who reveres the “mysteries” of life.
What makes this movie stand out is that Malick breaks up the human storyline with flashbacks to the Big Bang, the formation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. One feature in particular really caught my attention. Malick depicts the creation of the first protein based units that eventually led to humanity, and then we get a brief Jurassic park sequence with a couple of dinosaurs knocking around. When they appeared I really wanted to see if Malick would faithfully depict what I and a lot of the other people on this and other similar themed blogs talk about frequently, namely the brutal indifference of nature and its savage predatory cycle.
So what do we get? A few dinosaurs are splashing about in a river, all looking like they’re having fun. Then we get a close-up of a dinosaur lying on the stones, resting. Next a dinosaur splashes out of the water and puts his foot on the head of the one lying down. The audience tensed in anticipation. Here we go, thought I, we’re about to get the Dinosaur wars and a little tableau of nature red in tooth and claw.
How wrong I was. The dinosaur held his foot on the head of his mate for a moment, then removed it and went for another merry paddle. The audience sighed with relief and chuckled. Next shot we were back with good ol’ Homo Sapiens and the American suburbs.
What a cop-out, thought I. No depiction of the carnivore wars, the ruthless battle for survival, the merciless circus that is “Mother Nature”, just a couple of Spielberg dinosaur orphans from the backlot of Jurassic Park paddling about in the drink. As if every living creature had a nice easy time of it, and anything bad that happened was an unfortunate accident. Malick must be going soft in his old age, I reflected, a suspicion confirmed by the extremely cheesy ending that I won’t reveal here.
In general, the movie is worth a watch, if only for the cosmic scenes, and I must admit that I do admire Malick’s artisitic integrity in always having made the kind of movies he’s wanted without pandering to the whims of the studios or the audience, but when it comes to a faithful rendering of Nature he ducks out here bigtime.