Posted on 7.3.11: “I saw Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life for the second time last night, and it’s still a gentle, layered, highly undisciplined cosmic church-service movie — a quiet spiritual environment to dream inside of and meditate by. But (and I’m sorry to say this in a way) it doesn’t gain with a second viewing. And all very good or great movies tend to do this. So what’s wrong?

“I was made fun of on 5.22 by New York‘s “Approval Matrix” guy for tweeting from Cannes that I was glad I’d seen The Tree of Life but I’m “not sure if I’ll buy/get the Bluray.” Now that I’ve seen it twice I know I won’t bring the Bluray home. In other words I immediately sensed it wasn’t a two-timer in Cannes and now the proof is in the pudding, so I would say my premonitions have merit.

“For me, The Tree of Life is an amazing film in the sense that it gathers and swirls it all together in the same way that I myself swirl it all together ever day, soaking in my blender shake of childhood memories, present-day ennui, seaside dreams, forest-primeval dreams and dinosaur dreams, catch-as-catch-can impressions and endless variations and meditations about loss and lament and the absence of grace, etc. That plus ‘fuck me because it sure could have been a happier life if it hadn’t been for my gruff, largely unaffectionate, World War II-generation dad who brought darkness and snippiness too many times to the dinner table,’ etc.

“I’m always disengaging from the present and wandering around in the past and thinking about a constant stream of recolections…dinosaurs and Dean Martin,Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin and cap guns and girls in bikinis on beaches and how my mother looked and sounded when she was young, and how sometimes I used to argue with myself about who was worse, she or my father.

“All I know is that except for movie-watching and running around with friends, my childhood was a Soviet prison-camp experience — a spiritual gulag. My parents and the public schools I attended may have made me into a tougher, more resourceful survivor than if they’d been ‘nicer’ and easier on me, but God, what a price.

I’m presuming it’s not just me who takes this head-trip all the time, but each and every person on the planet. Malick is merely taking a grab-bag of his own lamentings and assembling them into a film. That — don’t get me wrong — is a very welcome thing. I’m immensely grateful that a film as nourishing and open-pored as The Tree of Life is playing in the same plex alongside Transformers 3 (a film that gives you no room whatsoever to trip out).

“But I’m not convinced that what Malick has done is all that staggering or transcendent or worth the kind of in-depth explanation piece that Salon‘s Matt Zoller Seitz has written, which reminds me of the sermons that Episcopalian ministers used to deliver when they tried to explain what God and Jesus could or should mean to the average parishioner (i.e., myself).

“I used to quietly groan to myself during these sermons, and then I took LSD when I was 19 and I finally did see God and Jesus, and I realized what tepid and cautious fellows those ministers were.”