A master of meditative beauty

Combining human pain with cosmic poetry

Brad Pitt stars in Tree of Life.

 

 

Winning the grand prize at the recent Cannes Film Festival for The Tree of Life was presumably very pleasing for Terrence Malick, the famously reclusive director of The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven. But don’t expect to hear much from him. This man of few words and fewer films — he has made just five features in 38 years — didn’t even attend the festival.

Ah, but what about the old idea of letting the film speak for itself? As it turns out, Tree is an epic poem that speaks volumes, but often in riddles. Suffused with spirituality but questioning of religion, it has a literally cosmic reach that spans hundreds of millions of years. It’s one of those rare films that shuts some people up as they exit the theatre, while others say, “I’m definitely going to be thinking about this one for awhile.” Even some critics who champion the film are hesitant to say what it’s really about. Except to add that it is unique and really, really amazing.

The core of the film focuses on a not-quite-functional 1950s family in small town Texas whose patriarch, Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt), has a lovely wife and three rambunctious boys. This man’s man has a job in a big mill, although we also see him fuming with lawyers about some patents he has devised. He also frets about how much money some of his neighbours have, and that they inherited it rather than earned it. This stern and eventually bitter father has a complicated relationship with his sons, especially the eldest, and bullies them often (in between hugs and other gestures of affection).  The death of one son causes fractures within the family to become more apparent, and there are occasional flash forwards to show that one son has grown up to become an architect and, as far as we can tell, an unhappy man.

This ordinary human tale is broken up into crystalline mosaic bits and embedded into a much larger cinematic edifice that is symphonic in structure. Malick’s cosmic narrative spans millions of years as it seeks patterns and parallels in galactic formations and cellular activity, in erupting volcanoes and stars going supernova.

We also hear the characters’ thoughts as they question the deepest purpose of their troubled lives.

I have never been a huge Malick fan, mostly because his impulse towards visual poetry sometimes interfered with, rather than abetted the story he was telling. But here the poetry is the message: the characters are sketched in but somehow fully realized, while the amazingly lyrical cinematography is meditative, inspirational, and often profound. And the soundtrack, too, further lifts the film up into a high spiritual realm.

In lesser hands this could have been unbearably precious hogwash. But Malick, bless his heart, never puts a foot wrong. M

Rating: *****

 

Opens Friday at the Odeon

Just Posted

Pet-A-Palooza a good reason to ‘pawse’ this weekend in Victoria

Puppies, goats, wiener dog races and more on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy Aug. 18-19

UVic art display showcases craft of bookmaking

Art of the Book 2018 is in the Audain Gallery at UVic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Aug. 11

Celebrate local food with Feast of Fields in North Saanich

21st Feast of Fields on Vancouver Island is at Kildara Farms on Aug. 26 from 1 to 4 p.m.

RIFFLANDIA: Local artists thrive under festival model

Bands like Current Swell, one of the 2018 headliners, made their mark at RAP

Baseball’s HarbourCats wind up WCL season with loss to Pickles

Victoria needed a win to make the league playoffs, now looks ahead to 2019

VIDEO: Huge crowd celebrates Sunfest opening night with Canyon, Pritchett in Lake Cowichan

Plenty to enjoy as Sunfest Country Music Festival opened, and lots of folks came out to do so

REVIEW: Ever wanted to be young again? Theatre Skam’s Concord Floral will make you think again

Strong acting in an interesting theatre space, writes Sheila Martindale

Brad Pitt says he has given Jolie Pitt millions since split

Actor Brad Pitt denies Angelina Jolie Pitt’s claim that he has paid no meaningful child support.

WINE LOVERS UNITE: Victoria festival offers numerous tasting options

Parkside Hotel and Spa hosting Victoria International Wine Festival

Farquhar Auditorium updates image for 40th season

The Farquhar at UVic ushers in new season Sept. 22

THEATRE SKAM: Young cast brings Concord Floral to life in vacant downtown retail space

Former office supply store a unique venue for telling mysterious tale of youth with secrets

Schedule released for world junior hockey championship in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria ready to host, as Canada conducts training camp in Kamloops

Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy visits Prospect Lake

Power To Be annual fundraiser event brings in big personalities

Bard Across the Bridge brings ‘The Tempest’ seaside

Stage set for classic Shakespeare tale in Saxe Point Park this week

Most Read