By Serena Bramble and Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play contributors
Still the most divisive major studio release of 2011, Terrence Malick’s fifth feature The Tree of Life is a dream film, a special effects extravaganza, an experimental movie, a rueful reflection on love and pain, and a memoir of small-town Texas life in the 1960s. Since Malick’s movie has a deliberately open-ended, perhaps unfinished, quality, I’ve conceived this two-part video essay along similar lines. It does not purport to be a definitive or even comprehensive take on the movie, but more of a loose personal reaction to it, one that could very well be revised or revisited in the future. It is intended as Chapter 5 in the Moving Image Source series All Things Shining: The Films of Terrence Malick, which ran earlier this year.
The first half of this chapter concentrates on the “creation” sequence of the film, paying special attention to the work of effect master Douglas Trumbull (2001), the influence of experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson, and the connection between the cosmic vistas and the more intimate human drama. The second half delves into the subjective and free-associative nature of the storytelling, the film’s portraits of the mother, father and narrator characters, and the possible meaning of the film’s much-debated final sequence.
I wrote and narrated the piece and Serena Bramble, a regular contributor to Press Play, edited. To view the piece in its original context at Moving Image Source, or to view other chapters in the series, click here.