Yesterday, Michelle and Sarah and I watched The Tree of Life
, which is nominated for Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Directing. My reaction, in brief: WTF.
To let you know, the movie opens with bright light and whispered, existential questions. We then move into some footage of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain as a married couple in the 50s in Texas, and then Sean Penn in modern day, and then back to the 50s, and then in space with life on Earth beginning, and then dinosaurs (no, seriously) and then back to Texas, and then their kids are tweens, and then a kid (not theirs) drowns, and then Sean Penn on a beach with lots of people from memories, and then the world ends.
No, actually, I get it. The movie is meant to be non-linear and have a lack of narrative, and I grok. I get that we're supposed to watch Pitt's character and his interaction with his sons as he grapples with wanting to be loving but also wanting to prepare them for the world, all the while dealing with his own issues, and how all of that affects his boy. I even get, kinda, how Sean Penn is looking back on all this (he's Brad Pitt's oldest son) and reflecting on the death of his brother (but we don't know which one) and how that's affecting him and his faith and everything. I get all that.
What I think, though, is that all the fruity editing and dinosaurs and space-footage did nothing for the movie except make it confusing. The story is simple, and that's fine
was a simple story, told in traditional ways, and it was very moving. Ditto, say, Rabbit Hole
. The Hours
, less traditional, but still easy to follow. Ditto Blue Valentine
. These are all human-condition drama. Oh, wait, couple more. In the Bedroom. 21 Grams
. Some of these movies play with narrative and non-linear structure, but none of them get so downright pretentious about the story they're telling, and none of them inject fucking dinosaurs into the story for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile, the characters we're asked to care about never get names. They never say them. They rarely have dialog that matches what's happening onscreen. Nothing is ever really resolved, and just when a narrative thread starts, we cut to something fruity like the wife (Chastain) hovering in midair by a tree.
The movie is really, really pretty. The cinematography is beautiful, and it's not done with computers (not all of it, at least). But I feel about this movie kinda the way I do about Lost in Translation
- it utterly fails to make me care about these people, because it jars me out of the story every few minutes. And it goes on forever
I see a lot of positive reviews talking about how it's a moving experience. I don't think it is, it certainly wasn't for me. There's a lot of prayer in the movie, and there are references to the Book of Job. The story of Job moves me, but not in the way that a lot of people probably think it should. I hate the story of Job more than most other Biblical myths, because it showcases really well what an arrogant, jealous, evil jerk the god of the Bible is. And we see that, a little, in the movie, because what happens to Job is summed up (in a sermon) with a kind of, "Well, did you think misfortune wouldn't happen to you?" This ignores that "misfortune" is bad luck, and when an all-powerful being decides to fuck with you, deliberately, just to win a bet, that's not luck.
But I suspect the message we're going for here is something like "don't take it personally, because you're just one nano-nano-second in the scheme of things" or even the more prosaic "god moves in mysterious ways." To which I respond, great. Now, is there a way you could have put that across and made it entertaining to watch? Because the song about the universe at the end of Meaning of Life
was a hell of lot more watchable.
If other folks have seen it and have good things to say, please, say them. Love to hear it. ( Oh, and points. )