Wednesday, June 15, 2011


If there is a Hell, Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is playing there, non-stop, and tormented souls are clawing over each other toward pits of boiling sulphur to avoid it. It's the worst film I've seen since Eraserhead. Is it worse than Hudson Hawk? Possibly. Exorcist II: The Heretic? Definitely.

Tree of Life is not as much a movie as it is a MFA thesis by way of a LSD trip, stitched together with clips from National Geographic's Blue Planet. Its emotional center is as profound as a cell phone commercial. Brad Pitt is angry for reasons no better explained than his glasses or his flat-top haircut. Sean Penn's four or five minutes on screen remind us how good he is at looking as if a toothpick is stuck in the back of his throat. The freckled mom doesn't age a day, has nothing to say and pouts incessantly when she's not playing chase or pillow fight or dancing in the rain in her French-girl sun dress. Two of the boys are cute. The oldest one scowls even when he's rummaging through a lingerie drawer. He grows up to be Sean Penn, I suppose. One of the boys dies. The middle one. In a war. Somewhere. Vietnam, perhaps. The mom receives word from Western Union in a Saving Private Ryan moment. She flits around for a few seconds and might have wept or wailed had the film editor allowed her time to do so.

If you think I've just given away the ending, think again. There is no ending. The thing just ends.

Spliced into these moments are redundant scenes of sunrises, sunsets, clouds, lava flows, the desert, beaches, jellyfish, hammerhead sharks, meteors striking the planet, bubbling muck, and, of course, the wind whipping through fields of grass, wheat and sunflowers the size of bicycle tires, but then, it wouldn't be a Terrence Malick film without the wind swooshing sawgrass or milo or some such. If he made a film about Birkenau, he'd shoehorn in at least four scenes of Polish flax swooshing outside a crematorium.

Oh, and bring a hearing aid. You'll need it each time Sean or Brad muse about life and death and family and God and lava flows and hammerhead sharks and the swooshing of sawgrass.

The people who claim to love this movie are most likely the same people who favor Cy Twombly over Rembrandt and the Velvet Underground over the Beatles. This is a film for art school potheads and film critics who believe narrative is passé, at least compared to vast ambition and deep humility and all sorts of other existential, hallucinogenic gibberish.

To quote Clark Griswold, "Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?"