Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tree Of Life ... No, Not The Lehi Version



by Luke Warmer (bio)

I described Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life to my parents as "the temple movie meets a family drama." I don't know if that's a fair description, but it got my parents to watch with me.



At the risk of sounding like a wuss (or disclosing I am a huge wuss), I sobbed through this film the first time I saw it.

The second time I saw it, I wept quietly.

The third time I saw it, I cried again. I looked over and saw my dad, a surly old longshoreman, crying. Coming from a generation that saw crying as a sign of weakness, he's not accustomed to showing emotion. He didn't cry when my brother died six years ago, and says he hasn't cried since. If my mother cries she looks at him apologetically knowing the show of emotion disturbs him.

When the film ended. I hugged him. He surprised me. He clung to me, all of his macho collapsing, swallowing air, choking back tears, and then giving in to a deep heaving sob.

I don't remember a more meaningful moment with my father.

Of course not everyone will react this way. The reviews were polarizing. The movie's premier at Cannes was met with boos, but then it went on to win the Palme d'Or. My favorite film reviewer, A. O. Scott, compared it's scope to Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Melville's Moby Dick. I echo Scott's passion for the film, and that doesn't come cheaply since I named my first son after Whitman. My wife, however, watched all of the emotion around her dry-eyed with removed fascination.

Two other directors (Christopher Nolan & David Fincher) discuss the film here.

A part of me wonders if the Mormon culture of regularly meditating the creation of the world and the cosmos makes the film especially accessible to the LDS viewer, despite the experimental non-linear format. That's not to call you unsophisticated if the film didn't speak to you. Plenty of sophisticated film-goers didn't love the non-linear format, including co-star Sean Penn (see previously linked Tree of Life wikipedia article).

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