That’s a Bold Statement

When word came the other day that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life drew a combination of boos and cheers at its Cannes premiere, it only made me want to see it all the more. The booing didn’t concern me one bit — Malick is just one of those directors. I’ve pretty much stopped recommending Days of Heaven to people even though it’s one of my favorite movies because too often the person comes back with the standard, “Nothing happened. It was soooo boring, just shots of waving wheat.” Even I can have wildly disparate responses to his movies: the first time I saw The Thin Red Line I thought it was a masterpiece; the second time I couldn’t get through it. But I’ve had a very good feeling about the Tree of Life since I saw the first trailer, partly because I couldn’t imagine how even Terrence Malick could cram so many disparate elements (domestic drama? sci fi elements? the creation of the universe?) into one movie.

And now comes this from Mike D’Angelo at the A/V Club:

“I am watching one of the greatest movies ever made.” It’s a thought I’ve had many times before, but only when revisiting old favorites, or having my first belated look at a decades-old classic. No matter how obviously magnificent a contemporary film may be, I’m not generally prepared to reserve a place for it in the canon before it’s even halfway over—indeed, it often takes me two or three complete viewings before I finally make the leap from “just plain great” to “all-time masterpiece.” I’m slow that way.

Roughly an hour into Terrence Malick’s mindbending The Tree of Life, however, I was fully convinced I was bearing world-premiere witness to the equivalent of Birth Of A Nation or Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey—an instant benchmark against which the entire medium would henceforth be measured.

Sadly, D’Angelo doesn’t think the full film lives up to its initial promise, and he only ranks it a B when all is said and done. Still can’t wait to see it.

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8 Responses to That’s a Bold Statement

  1. crisi-tunity says:

    Same here. This is the first Malick film in cinemas that I’ve a) been alive for and b) didn’t think looked kinda bad, or c) wasn’t about war.

    I love that sensation that the reviewer talks about: that creeping realization that the thing you are taking in is Great. So rare sitting in the cinema these days.

    Also, I’ll agree with the folks who said that nothing happened in Days of Heaven and it was mostly fields of wheat at the same time as I agree with you. It’s still spectacularly gorgeous.

  2. jan says:

    Finally, someone who loves “Days of Heaven” as much as I do! I’ve seen it several times and never get tired. “Thin Red Line” was amazing. I am there with you in the theater!

  3. Not sure about this one. I couldn’t make it through “Thin Red Line” even for one viewing. But you know how I feel about “Days of Heaven.” Top ten of all time. Maybe almost number one.

    • pt dismal says:

      yeah, me too, twink–not sure about this one.

      i think that trailers generally make every movie look like it is going to be a piece of shit, but i also love TM. yes, days is superb. and badlands, too. and thin red line is a great war movie (100x greater than private ryan). and the new world is actually pretty amazing.

      so, my bet is that this movie is great in some way. the trailer just makes it look like a bunch of pretentious horseshit.


      • crisi-tunity says:

        ptd, the trailer does make it look like pretentious horseshit, but as soon as I saw Malick’s name, I thought, “That’s why it looks that way, but it’s going to be great in some way.”

  4. pt dismal says:

    oh yeah, and about the shots of wheat….

    of course, the pacing is one of the things that makes days such a great movie. what continues to amaze me is that every time i see some kinda foreign flick, it usually has shots like this–long, slow, without people, with some common object or natural occurence, but with not much else going on it. and watching this, i think, no american director would do this, no american audience would watch this–why? it is freaking beautiful….

    whatever, i dunno. last time this happened we were watching “i am love.” that was a good movie.


  5. pt dismal says:

    ok, i’m only posting in response to myself, so this is pathetic, but i dont care. even though it might be a very shallow insight, i’m gonna cite some support for the shots of wheat comment.

    reading zadie smith’s review of “the clock” in the springfield review of books:
    “the clock makes you realize how finely attuned you are to the rhythms of commercial (usually american) film. each foreign clip is spotted at once. . . . it’s the variant manipulation of time, primarily its slowness, although of course this ‘slowness’ is only the pace of real time.”


    • Anonymous says:

      hey, saw “tree” yesterday. yeah, wow. a movie you have to think about. a lot. i’m not sure it all adds up for me yet, but me and the missus have been talking about it and finding more meaning in it (and a few plot points that will have to be cleared up with another viewing). the special effects are amazing–that’s what the beginning of the universe must’ve looked like fer shizzle.


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