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Mares: Tree of Life

02/06/12 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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(Host) Commentator Bill Mares believes that if there were an Academy Award for emotional impact, Terrance Malik's TREE OF LIFE would win hands down.

When my friend and film critic, Barry Snyder, recommended that I see the film, THE TREE OF LIFE, by Terrance Malick, he called it " an overwhelmingly ambitious cinematic gesture that recalls all the hope and belief in the possibilities of the medium..." And ambitious it certainly is. This film embraces life from the Big Bang to an indeterminate future. There are lush visual riffs on creation and even dinosaurs make a cameo appearance. Sean Penn appears as a troubled architect wandering through a soulless forest of anonymous skyscrapers, perhaps some of his own creations.
 
It reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's 20001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. But while Kubrick looked forward for the central story, Malick looks backward to his home town near Waco, Texas in the ‘50's. I grew up in a similar town about 200 miles south of Waco at about the same time, and seeing The Tree Of Life was like watching a professionally-made home movie.

Through what Barry calls the " camera's floating presence" there were we three brothers again, wearing striped shirts, chasing each other around backyards, jumping on beds, and waging watery war with garden hoses. Like movie-father Brad Pitt, our father was an engineer-inventor. Like Pitt, he hid his love behind a stern and distant front. Both our home and the one in the movie rang with classical music. Pitt played Bach, our father listened to Beethoven. Malick's camera found tactile details in the house that so resembled our own, like the movement of lace curtains before air-conditioning, aluminum glasses for soda, and an early phonograph. There was the familiar sibling rivalry, and family meals where kids were supposed to be seen and not heard.

Other flash-backs came quick and fast. We too, chased into the woods to hunt with pellet guns. We too, danced in the oily-sweet spray of the DDT truck. There too, were our first stirrings of interest in girls, and our casual amorality of petty vandalism and mocking the handicapped.
 
According to Barry, Malick was fascinated by the central question in the Book of Job, that is, why do bad things happen to good people? In the film, one brother dies off-camera. The oldest son watches a friend drown and his father is helpless to revive the boy.
 
That split my heart. My own middle brother Tom died in a swimming accident. I had arrived home from work just an hour after his body was pulled from the water. Through blurred eyes I seemed to be watching not Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain react, but my own mother weep and my father clench his jaw in stoic silence. The rest of the film veered away from my own family's experience. As I left the theater, I couldn't help wondering if I had simply been moved by a brilliant visual coincidence or if a stranger's art had actually managed to touch something deep within my own life?

Surely, I concluded, it had been a bit of both.
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