There are pitifully few movies that I have loved, although when I do find a movie that moves me, it lingers for a long time, a lifetime really. And I’m not a good movie companion; I tend to go to movies alone for two reasons: I always stay to see all of the credits and am often the last to leave the theater; and I never want to talk about a movie right after I’ve seen it, in fact I often leave the theater in a very distracted state, if not totally catatonic. If I am enthralled by a movie, I need for it to linger inside me unmolested for a while. I’ll give you the short list of movies that have great valence for me, so you can see that I’m probably not the best critic for you to judge a movie by. And then I’ll tell you what I thought of Tree of Life, which I saw yesterday at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma, WA (a non-profit film house where the tickets are $6.50!).
A small sampling of Risa’s film favorites:
- They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
- King of Hearts
- Man Facing Southeast
- Happiness (Todd Solondz)
- The Magdalene Sisters
- Wristcutters: A love Story
Stop here if you don’t want to hear about the film.
So why did I decide to see Tree of Life and what did I think of it? I could have chosen to see Beginnings or Midnight in Paris, they were both playing at the Grand. I suppose the simple reason I decided to see Tree of Life was a bad reason: I heard that people were walking out of it because it was “too strange”. And it was strange in a 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of way. It had lush effects that portrayed (I guess) all of creation and the afterlife. There were a couple of moments when I felt truly transported, particularly the hot lava and roiling waters.
The story invokes a fairly typical dysfunctional family from the 50’s and the death of one of three sons; plus it’s effect on the oldest son in later life. Or something like that. The acting was great, particularly the kids—they were fantastic. The movie gives one of the deepest, nuanced and most haunting portrayal of the life of boys and the relationship between boys and a demanding, insecure father, that I’ve ever seen. In what it shows about men and their relationships with one another, it has a mild brilliance, certainly poignant and tear-provoking. The best line in the movie was when the older son yells at the dad, “You only love men.” (read: you don’t love your wife or your sons.)
But, stupidly, I guess, I wasn’t expecting a theological film, in the religious sense, not the philosophical sense, although that may have been the intent and could have been a worthy intent. But particularly I wasn’t expecting (nor would I have wanted to see) a specifically Christian-themed film. Although it starts with the Hebrew themed Job (you can’t understand suffering so don’t even try, I [God] am unknowable, so don’t ask these questions of me, but go ahead and moan if it makes you feel better), it ends with a mother giving her son to God (need I embellish this image?).
Regarding mothers and loss, I know how easy it is to jerk those strings. The mother loses and eventually accepts her loss because she gains a vision of heaven, which turns out to be a throng of people walking along a beach at low tide. (need I say wtf?)
Sorry I can’t be more positive about this one. No, not really. Not sorry. It could have been a great film, but it’s not. It caved to theological right-leaning.