Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Tree of Life, dir/wr. Terrence Malick, st. Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

Is there, I'm sitting here and wondering, any correlation between frequency and quality of artistic output? The answer I guess should be "no, of course not"; a genius songwriter, for example, is a genius songwriter regardless of the rate of output. But the tendency, I suspect, is to hold in higher regard an artist whose output is exceedingly slow. It's quite clever really. One's natural rate of working becomes one's own marketing ploy - each new release of work becomes an event in its own right. Take Terrence Malick whose near forty-year career has seen him helm six - six - feature films. His most recent work, news of which has been humming and buzzing around the internet for many months prior to its release, is an impossibly grand and opulent meditation on life, the universe and everything. Reaction has been mixed and comparisons with, invariably, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey being drawn as The Tree of Life's closest thematic twin. The plot, such as it is, is fragmented and non-linear; Brad Pitt (wonderful) as a loving but overbearing father, Sean Penn as one of his grown sons looking back on his childhood, and images and see-scapes of universe-creating and Earth-birth collide and intercut between one another. Poetic, yet imprecise and vague dialogue about the nature of Being is whispered over the imagery at various intervals. At one point, the phrase "A-Level Media Studies" pinged into my brain and I was ashamed at stooping so low, but then found the term curiously hard to exorcise completely. Actually, at times, the sheer scale and scope of what I saw being attempted on-screen floored me, but ultimately, whilst I got it, I didn't feel it, which was a great, great shame.