Tree of Life: More Thoughts and a Few Reviews

A few more thoughts and a clarification regarding my last post about Tree of Life:

First a quick clarification: A few friends were quick to contact me about my use of the word “evolution” in reference to 2001 Space Odyssey and Tree of Life. I was not referring to biological evolution. Biological evolution certainly does play a part in the loose narrative of the film. And I think the film does a nice job of NOT pitting “science” against “religion.” Brilliant actually. And I must say, the scene depicting a dinosaur lifting his heel to crush the head of a peer almost made me cry. BTW – Did anyone notice the scene with the “Leviathan” sea creature/dinosaur in which the camera panned to reveal the gash marks inflicted by another creature? I immediately thought of the “Leviathan” of the deep mention in the book of Job.

The kind of “evolution” depicted in Tree of Life is different than the 2001 Space Odyssey enlightenment/evolution of human consciousnesses through science/the will to power. Which (in my opinion) is a more polarizing and Modern take on things than Tree of Life presents? I was speaking in my last post of the evolution of consciousnesses and morality; not biological evolution. I don’t think Tree of Life has a problem with biological evolution per say. Nor is it in conflict with the rest of the film?

Second, I have found a review of the film that points to a few things that I think other critics have missed. Namely, the way that memory functions to create the “narrative” of the film. Malick is not playing by the narrative rules that some critics hold as gospel. He is instead pointing out something peculiar about the way that people remember and shape narrative. Real life is not as linear as we imagine. Precisely because we image and interpret life, and our own individual life stories, through the impressions of certain memories that cannot be contained by words or even a narrative description. We do, in fact, come to “know” and have warrant to believe certain things based on the way we form and understand certain memories. This is an intriguing philosophical move on the part of the filmmaker. He is not playing by typical linear narrative rules, but is presenting something that may be more true to the way we actually experience life. Which also might explain why some critics of the film found it so dreadfully boring:) Reno Lauro points out the result,

The characters, however, don’t tell us what paths they choose or what they are feeling. There is no three-act structure, no monologues, and no simple representations of love, anger, or desire. The film is without homage or a self-referential awareness of its own movieness. There is no care of anticipating the audience’s boredom by offering easily digestible answers or predictable cuts. Malick throws us into a living, complex, and true lifeworld.

Malick is arguing that we experience life in the context of eternity, which may be an anxiety producing thought for some. Read the rest of Reno Lauro’s review here. It is my favorite of all that I have come across this week. You might also want to check out this review from the Lincoln Center Film Society for an interesting look at how Tree of Life was received at the Cannes Film Festival.