This week, I found myself about one particular summer twenty years ago.
It was a summer that started with getting my heart-broken, but turned into weeks of very late nights surrounded by amazing friends. It was filled with music, laughter, sunshine and starlight. Just to add more poetry and symmetry to this particular summer, it would end with me meeting the girl who’d go on to be my first serious relationship. These are the kinds of things that happen to us during summers when we’re young…whether we’re seven or seventeen. Life itself seems to slow down and intensify. Adventure, joy, excess, determination, frustration, and pain all seem to get laced into every rainstorm, every sunburn, and every evening drive.
If we weren’t so young, it might be too much to handle. Experiencing all of those feelings again in one abstract film almost is too much to handle.
Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE is at times confounding, often pretentious, eye-poppingly beautiful, and deeply personal. When it was released it was deeply divisive, with critics fawning over it, and many commercial audiences shrugging with confusion. The time between then and now – like the time that passes after those endless summers of our youth – has allowed perspective. It has allowed us to understand that it is neither the greatest film ever made, nor the worst. In that way it is evocative of those youthful moments of melodrama, where we feel like we’re having the best day ever…or that our life is over.
Just like youthful impulses, some films just need time to work themselves out.
What has worked itself out in the four years since THE TREE OF LIFE’s release is that it is less a film interested in telling a story than one that wants to evoke a feeling. It wants to wash over its audience and let them remember the emotions of shame, happiness, curiosity, and anger that they felt as children. It evokes the times that a scolding from our parents felt like the pounding rapids of a waterfall…or the way a simple bike ride can feel like being a bird in flight. The dialogue and narrative of this film take a back seat to it being a sensory experience.
In that way, the film wants to be less a written account of those ideas than it wants to spark them…the way a taste of lemonade can remind you of selling it in your front yard as a child.
Much the same way that the span of twenty years has made me romantic for a summer of my youth, the span of a mere four years has made THE TREE OF LIFE seem more special and singular. The same way that some people come in and out of our lives and show that sometimes “a boy isn’t just a boy” or “a girl isn’t just a girl”…Terrence Malick’s cerebral masterpiece uses splendour, grace, and philosophy to show that sometimes “a film isn’t just a film”.
Now pardon me while I go dust off my Doc Martens and Counting Crows CD’s…
Click below for my original review of THE TREE OF LIFE, and feel free to leave comments with your thoughts on this film and its place in the decade so far.