OK, so it’s old, but Geoffrey O’Brien’s NYRB review of Malick’s The Tree Of Life is one of the best things I’ve come across. A few highlights.

“An aroma of Freudian family romance pervades the film like a cloud of slightly acrid perfume, and Malick (who has written a screenplay on the case that formed the basis of Breuer and Freud’s Studies on Hysteria ) surrounds early sense impressions with silences and gaps suggestive of Freud’s ‘screen memory’ that conceals another adjacent memory. Every view is partial, every glimpse interrupted.”

O’Brien captures the terror shimmering just under the surface of the film:

“It occurred to me watching the film that this kind of intense evocation of the barely subdued terrors of childhood is more commonly found in horror movies . . . but here no Gothic melodrama or extraordinary bursts of violence are needed to convey the tremors under the surface of ordinary life.”

And he does a neat job with the final scene: “For his ending Malick has contrived a curious allegory of time - a sort of masque, almost - in which all the characters, at all their different ages, coexist in a single moment. It is a stylized restatement of what has already been implicit in every aspect of The Tree of Life: the notion that every moment exists in the present, whether it is the moment when an asteroid collides with a planet or the moment when a boy breaks a window, and that the whole of imaginable time can be only one great now.”

He concludes with: “I would burn with irresistible curiosity to see the film of any text [Malick] might care to adapt, whether it were Spinoza’s Ethics or the phone book. He does his thinking by means of cinema in its full range of possibility, and that is at any time a rare spectacle.”

More on: Film

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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