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This is bold: you make a film that illustrates your favourite music, have the most beautiful images contrasted with the banality of small town USA, paint your canvas with all the colours of existence, only to state that this (the existence) is finite. The film starts with the creation of the universe, and it ends with “Amen” (or almost), signifying (spoiler alert…) that we are mere mortals.  In-between, River Phoenix’ Stand By Me clone brother (no, not that real crazy brother,  a fictional one) suffers the disease that is called growing up, with an oppressively well-intentioned father, a beautiful and tender mother, two brothers and many questions about the meaning of life. Not that he would voice them, but his face constantly expresses the pain of not understanding why things happen in the way they do. As in all Malick films, he enjoys the touch of nature, his hands gliding above the high grass blades, admiring the tenderness of the tangible parts of reality, while the intangible human interactions seem to elude him. Being out with the brothers and friends is fine for a while, just enjoying the dynamics of running and shouting, but it wears off, and more intensive action must replace it, which is when you start throwing stones into windows or blowing up frogs to smithereens.

The Tree of Life is the story of an angry kid, but also of the irrelevance of this anger – the grown up does not understand the anger anymore, he seems to not understand emotions at all anymore, and is nostalgic about it. He moves on towards a time where it does not matter what he did nor did not feel, the afterlife, or after-existence, and there everybody is happy and forgiving and rather indifferent, it seems, to everything that happened before.

The Tree of Life is not a movie – it is an audio-visual installation of great beauty, maybe bearing more relation with a poem than with a novel, its messages hidden in vast allegories, wrapped in wonderful images. I find it quite odd that this film has been so very successful both critically and commercially, but it is a good thing that it has. What we can learn from the film and from its impact is another matter, I am not so sure about the lessons here. Maybe, as some great art, its beauty is all the message that is needed.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_tree_of_life_2011/

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