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.