Impressions of an Impressionist Film

August 2, 2011

The Tree of Life, even a month after my last viewing, has lingered on my mind in a most delightful way like few movies have. Throughout the day snatches of the film invade my thoughts and distract my attention. The movie has aged incredibly well in my mind, better than nearly every movie I have ever seen. This makes sense, not only because it is an incredible film that affected me deeply, but because it was filmed to portray impressions—to display memories the way we remember them.

The most common question I have seen regarding the film is, “what is it about?” This is a difficult question to answer, as I am sure those who have seen the movie can testify. The only way I can think to quickly describe it is as a prayer. Unfortunately, this only makes sense if you have already seen the movie. So, for everyone else, I am going to attempt to describe it here.

The Tree of Life is about life. Not the ever-tedious moments which pass for the modern lifestyle, but life as something that is actually living. It is about the small moments that prompt the biggest, life altering questions. It is about the inability to lift your head and the blur that corrupts your vision in times of immense trial. It is about the moments where you see a truly honest face, if only for a split second. It is about the real prayers that pass through your mind as you verbalize the fake ones.

The Tree of Life is about asking why, and seeing the answer both nowhere and everywhere. It is about the curiosity of a child who believes himself to be invincible. It is about contexts and constants: nature and God. It believes in the wonder of looking to the heavens during moments of joy—even if that view is incomplete and obscured. It feels uncomfortable in places of modernity; the steel structures of the city are cold and static. In nature it is alive—ever longing to see something more, something through what is.

The Tree of Life is about the enormity of the universe, and the enormity of a child’s mind. It is about the memories of childhood. Excitement, adventure, new responsibilities, and the creeping, terrifying curiosity of seeing something and knowing it is not right. It is about the power of music, rushing water, and the smile of a joyful mother.

The Tree of Life is about the moments that add up to create life, and the realization that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is about realizing that fact and pleading, begging to know why.

It is about looking past the trivialities and knowing in the stillness something great lurks. The beginning and the end. The Truth.

4 Responses to “Impressions of an Impressionist Film”

  1. Daniel Says:

    See the thing about Tree of Life is that it’s a movie that has all the “technical” elements that you talked about in your first post, and none of the “storytelling” elements that normal moviegoers care about. Yes the cinematography was beautiful, (although they didn’t know how to make a still shot lol) yes Brad Pitt’s acting was strong, yes it delved into the mind/life of the main character, but the movie failed to do what moviegoers expect a movie to do; tell a story. It had such a ridiculously basic plot that it’s almost laughable. “Totally average boy grows up”… deep. When I go see a movie I want to see an extraordinary story told in a beautiful way. I have no urge to see a boring story told in an extraordinary way. That’s what Tree of Life was. I also disliked how long the montages went for. There was no reason to show clip after clip for 10 minutes when one minute would have sufficed. This ended up making the movie was also FAR too long. A movie without a story wound up going 40 minutes longer than most movies. Going over 2 hours is generally frowned upon in the movie making industry. Going over 2 hours when you don’t even have a story? Bad juju ;).

  2. Daniel Says:

    oops excuse the grammar errors lol

  3. Marc Davis Says:

    I think the fundamental disagreement we have is over the purpose of movies. What is a film trying to do? It’s trying to communicate something. Many times that involves displaying a traditional “story” (I would argue that this film has a profound story, but not in the way you use the word), sometimes it doesn’t. This is the case for all art. Novels may have stories, but poetry can sidestep that and reach something deeper. Paintings can depict an elaborate historical scene, or something more abstract. Art isn’t about creating a 3-part story structure, it’s about communicating something.

    That said, what is The Tree of Life trying to communicate? As I have said, the movie is a prayer; it is an attempt to look into the deep questions of life. It is also about memories of life, and the connection between those and the larger purpose of life. Given that, would it make very much sense to do a traditional story-structure? Profound things have been communicated that way before, but if our prayers and our memories don’t follow traditional storytelling tropes, why should a prayer and memory in movie form have to?

    The nontraditional format allows the viewer to really question the meaning and point of the film. It is true some people may be caught off guard, but one of the reasons I wrote this post was to preempt that. If you take the movie as what it is and let it affect and challenge you, it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

    Finally, about the length of the montages. I don’t know about you, but I thought the movie flew by. I couldn’t believe it when I checked the time at the end. I suppose for some it may move more slowly, but that allows the viewer to ponder the questions being asked by the movie. They are large questions that require time to consider. Too few movies allow time for that, especially in modern times. Let people exhale and think. The patient and contemplative will be thankful. And going over 2 hours is frowned upon entirely for money-making purposes. It has nothing to do with the actual quality of the film.

  4. Yvonne Says:

    I’ve never even seen this movie but already think I’d hate it.
    I will give it a chance though& get back to you ..eventually. Give me a few years or something. I’m slow aha

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