A week ago an anonymous IMDB guy claimed to have seen The Tree of Life and posted some reactions. Dismiss him if you want (his writing is awkward and he doesn’t punctuate like he should), but some of his impressions square with what I’ve heard elsewhere (i.e., Sean Penn not really being in it much and barely speaking a line of dialogue) so there’s reason to half-consider this.
Here, also, is an apparent review, originally written in French by “Julien,” a contributor to Les Echos Du Cinema.
Spoiler-sensitive types are advised to PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION before reading these excerpts from the IMDB guy’s review:
“I’m a fan of Malick’s other works, including The New World. What separates [The Tree of Life] from that and his other works is the way the story is told. I’d say this is by far his most unconventional as far as storytelling goes.
“Brad Pitt is excellent in it. But it’s not a full-bodied lead performance worthy of an Oscar. It’s more of a supporting role to Sean Penn‘s character as a younger boy.
“This movie will be very polarizing, in the same way Antichrist was.
“No title sequence. Opens with a bible quote.
“The dinosaur sequence involves two of them — one lying on the ground while the the other approaches and places its foot on top of it’s head.
“It’s far less of a narrative story than I was expecting and more of a tone poem in the vein of Tarkovksy‘s work. Tonally, it feels a bit like the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a tiny bit of Darren Aronofsky‘s The Fountain and a tiny bit of Benjamin Button.
“But at the same time, it is nothing like those [films]. I really admire that this thing got made considering who’s involved. Plus it’s a fucking art film with CGI dinosaurs! I found it so audacious.
“It’s structure is also very unique. Near the start, it beautifully transitions into the beginning of time space scenes, dinosaurs, animals evolving into the animals we are today and perfectly weaves back into the story with Brad Pitt and family. These scenes play out in a strangely jarring way which felt slightly hypnotic to me.
“As I said, it’s more tone poem than straightforward narrative so it felt as if I was watching a collection of memories and/or small moments in their lives. Unfortunately, this also was a downside for me [as] I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. There was a distance there. I will say that the whispering multi-narrators got a little tiresome after a while, crossing into self parody for Malick. What they say and how they say it will be a part of where the polarizing views will happen. Some will see that part as self important hogwash.
“My last problem is that of Sean Penn’s character. He isn’t in it as much as one would expect and hardly has a line of dialogue. He just vacantly stares while reflecting on his past with his father.
“Maybe I’m missing a larger point here but I found the movie as a whole to be impenetrable in what exactly it’s trying to say. And is 2.5 hours too much of an indulgence a director can give themselves to say it?” [Wells interjection: 138 minutes might feel long to this or that viewer, but it obviously isn’t two and a half hours.]
“It is certainly something that I have been processing over the last couple nights and it has gotten better in my head, it’s so unique that it thrown me off in having a clear opinion of it. I take that as a good sign. I can’t wait to see it again.”