A master of meditative beauty

Combining human pain with cosmic poetry

Brad Pitt stars in Tree of Life.

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Tomo Vranjes, a Greater Victoria musician and longtime fan of late rock guitar icon Eddie Van Halen, joins artist Paul Archer behind the latter’s Fort Street gallery. Archer, whose airbrushed paintings of rock greats have made him many connections in recent years, painted a likeness of Van Halen following the guitarist’s death last month from cancer. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Victoria artist’s king-sized tribute to Eddie Van Halen draws on personal connection

Paul Archer had an up close and personal day with the legendary guitarist in 1980

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

A sample of some of Lou-ann Neel’s jewelry.
Lou-ann Neel wins the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art

Originally from Alert Bay, Neel’s family is steeped in renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists

I-Hos Gallery manager Ramona Johnson shows some of the paddles available at the retail outlet. Photo by Terry Farrell
I-Hos Gallery celebrates 25 years of promoting First Nation artwork

K’ómoks First Nation-based outlet has art from all over the country

Bard to Broadway Theatre Society may stage shows outdoors next summer. (PQB News photo file)
Qualicum Beach’s Bard to Broadway group may stage shows outdoors

Theatre society plans smaller productions due to ongoing pandemic

A new short film festival called MORVENFEST is encouraging B.C. secondary students to step into the world of film during their Christmas break. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
New film festival gives Victoria students exciting opportunity

MORVENFEST is open to all B.C. secondary students over Christmas break

Most Read