They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results, which they will happily repeat to you 10 times a day.
Still, when the world keeps cheering for something you've never been able to connect with, it's hard to resist giving it just one more shot.
I get this way about celebrated directors sometimes. I've never really understood the love for Terrence Malick's work, but last year's The Tree of Life got all kinds of praise. Yet once again, I was underwhelmed.
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In rural Texas in the 1950s, Brad Pitt is raising his sons to be tough. Oldest son Hunter McCracken chafes under Pitt's rule, however, struggling to find his own way through the world.
The DVD for The Tree of Life suggests you play the movie loud, as that's how it was intended to be seen. Rock on! Crank that arthouse action up to 11. Or so I thought. As it turns out, the main reason to play it loud is to jar yourself awake from the regular naps it inflicts on you.
The Tree of Life is boring. Like, comically boring. As boring as a movie that includes dinosaurs and the sun destroying the Earth can possibly be. More boring than that, actually, because "boring" and "dinosaurs" should be like matter and antimatter. Yet Malick once more breaks bold new ground in the field of tedium. He could make a movie about zombie firework enthusiasts boring.
This isn't entirely a complaint. Much of the movie's slowness comes from all the long shots of nature Malick slices into the "action." These look stunning. The entire movie does. Its lighting and clarity is so gorgeous it makes the actual world look like it was recorded in some guy's basement. Malick is so good with a camera I think he might actually be one.
That would also explain why The Tree of Life doesn't have much of what typically appeals to humans. There's no identifiable plot, for one. The dialogue is so broad you could eat dinner off it. It's downright biblical, which I'm sure is intentional. The movie is a search to understand our place in the cosmos, after all, and it's ambitious enough that some people have actually come away from it with some answers.
Not me, though. The collage-like nature of it never felt like more than a pile of torn-up scraps. Still, The Tree of Life builds a dreamlike mood, and after two hours of its crystal-clear beauty, all the world will look sharper to your eyes -- if you were able to keep them open.