Warning: This is a long post. Read at your own risk.
To be fair, I can’t actually give a very informed critique of the new Brad Pitt film, The Tree of Life because I only made it through 42 minutes of the movie. And that, in my opinion, was being generous.
But I can tell you this: I hated each of those 42 minutes. Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. After all, when you go to a movie you usually give it a few minutes to see where it’s heading before you start making judgments. Especially if it’s not your typical movie that introduces a character or two and presents a situation right from the get-go (Tree of Life doesn’t really do either of these things).
So I think I probably gave it 5-10 minutes before I decided it was going to be a really looooong two hours and 18 minutes. Really, I should’ve known from the descriptions of the film I’d read, referring to it as an “impressionistic,” “difficult,” “poetic,” “hypnotic,” and “artistically ambitious.” None of those terms imply entertaining, which is often what I want when I go to a movie. Even thought-provoking, artistic films can be entertaining on some level. So in a way, I should’ve known better. Here’s how it went down:
The film opens with a scripture from Job flashing on the screen. I settle in my seat. Immediately I know this was going to be a “serious” film. I briefly wish we had the second season of How I Met Your Mother at home instead.
But then it just gets better. And by better, I mean worse. After the scripture, there are various images. I would tell you what these images were if I knew. But I can’t help you. Some are recognizable—like trees, especially one in particular (I assume it is the Tree of Life from the title—go me!) but the other images are … weird, formless entities. There’s just no other description. These images are accompanied by a whispery-voice narrator asking profound questions about man’s existence. Yawn.
At some point we see Jessica Chastain’s character answer the door of her home and receive a letter, where we learn from her collapse and scream that it is bad news. We don’t find out what that bad news is until after several more images and weird whispery narrations. And by then we’re not sure we care. We want to know where in the he** Brad Pitt is because he’s 97% of why we wanted to see the movie in the first place.
And then we do get to see him! But he doesn’t say anything, just like no one else in the movie says anything and then there are more bizarre images. But we manage to figure out that Brad and Jessica’s (I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if what their characters’ names were) oldest son was killed. That was the bad news in the letter. And Jessica’s not handling it so well. And we see Brad a lot now but he doesn’t say much. So maybe he’s not handling it so well either but we’ll never know because suddenly there are tall buildings with glass windows and Sean Penn is there and now we’re following HIM around. Again, there’s no dialogue and we go back and forth between Sean Penn doing weird things (like wading in the ocean and then suddenly climbing rocks in desert).
At this point, I realize something important: I have given up on this movie. I wonder how long it’s been. I consider checking my phone but since I have a pretty good sense of time, I fear that it’s only been 30 minutes. And I didn’t come by myself so I don’t feel like I can just get up and leave. So I don’t think I want to know what time it is.
I consider other things I might be able to do in a dark movie theater when actually watching the movie on the screen is out of the question. Sleeping seems like a good idea but now there is this really loud opera song playing and I think it might be distracting. Hmmm. (For the record, there is absolutely nothing else to do in a movie theater).
Fortunately, while there were more images being shown on the screen (and they just got stranger and stranger), I looked over at my friend who looked at me at the same time. And we both started laughing (quietly of course). I knew it was over. She asked if I wanted to stick it out and I told her I didn’t mind losing the $8.75 I’d spent. We got out of there faster than you can say “Brad Pitt.”
Moral of the story? Go see Crazy, Stupid, Love. instead. Go see Planet of the Apes instead. File your nails. Read a book. Go to the dentist. Clean the bathroom. Weed your garden. Do ANYTHING besides see this movie.