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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Terence Malick's "Tree of Life" 2011: Beauty, Reverence, and Dinosaurs; And My Own Memory of Lilacs

Last night I tried to watch Terence Malick's 2011 film "Tree of Life."

I had heard a lot about it of course. I was especially eager to see the dinosaur sequence. The film was kind of a dare –would I be able to sit through it? Would I be deep and profound enough to be moved by it, or would I be a Philistine, a plebian, a Bohunk and just not get it at all? Or, does the emperor have no clothes and did Malick go off the rails and does the film really suck? And is everyone too intimidated to say so?

I loved Terence Malick's 1998 WW II Pacific theater film, "The Thin Red Line." I have no idea what it was about, but I loved it. Jim Caviezel was especially impressive.

"Tree of Life" was very beautiful. It was one of the two most reverential films I've ever seen, the other being George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

There are scenes in "Tree of Life" that communicate, better than any other film I've ever seen how isolated, "meaningless" moments in a child's life can became so heavily saturated with power that those moments are carried into adulthood like small, individual cathedrals within each one of us.

For example, I have a memory of being very small, and sitting on the ground in the center of a lilac bush with my brother, Greg Goska. He is very small, as well. I guess we were about four or five.

I look up and see gray branches, green, heart shaped leaves, and purple lilacs, and beyond them, blue sky. And – that's it. That's the entire moment. Nothing happened. No one was born or died. No one presented us with a puppy or a violin or a book we'd later quote or a friend for life. We weren't even playing a particularly interesting game.

That's all I've got – sitting on the ground with my brother Greg, looking up through a lilac bush, struck by shapes and color, and feeling overwhelmingly in love with life and as if anything I ever needed to know I already knew, feeling as much pleasure as I could ever feel, knowing why I was here and knowing that being here was a very, very good thing, an incalculable blessing.

I've never forgotten that moment. I have tried to communicate it to people. I can't. There is no plot, no dialogue, no secret, no takeaway.

I've always assumed that everyone carries moments like that. Moments from childhood when life just shouts, that you never forget.

"Tree of Life" communicates those moments. A child in a crib and a gauzy curtain playing over it; boys at play; a loving mother. Moment, moment, moment.

There's no plot, though, as far as I could see, and I lost interest, and stopped watching. So I guess I am a Philistine.

But I loved the twenty-minute long creation sequence, that occurs about twenty minutes into the film. A mother loses her son, and she beings to question God. "What are we to you?" she asks. Malick answers with this twenty minute sequence attempting to depict the creation of the universe, the rise of dinosaurs, and their extinction. I watched that sequence twice.

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