I’m going to be honest, for most of The Tree of Life I couldn’t make out the wood for the trees. I understand why it won the Palme d’Or, but I don’t in any way pretend to understand it.
But then I’m sure that doesn’t matter, the comprehension of the audience member is almost assuredly what a film like this is not going for … at least I think I can make that assumption. Surely what a film such as this does is to highlight the difference in interpretation anyway, and therefore the arbitrary nature of comprehension in any film or, indeed, any work of art.
I don’t know; what I do know is that my cinema viewing companion is still puzzled as to why one dinosaur trod on the other dinosaur’s head whereas I think I got this part, but don’t really understand why there were dinosaurs at all.
I’m going to be brave and describe this film as avant-garde, still feeling slightly like a pretentious tit as I do so despite having done a whole course on the subject (although this probably makes me rank higher on the pretentious scale anyway).
The cinematography was excellent and knew it was. The Tree of Life is a finely crafted film that pays homage to the art of filmmaking whilst trying, in its own way, to redefine it.
For me there were allusions to Stan Brakhage’s Murder Psalm, Maya Deren’s At Land (which itself acknowledges Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou)and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The latter situating The Tree of Life within the map of filmic cultural landmarks, and the transition of avant-garde to (relative) mainstream.
Anyway, that’s enough avant-garde babble from me.
The Tree of Life has its own merits, and these are (I think) mostly derived from an avant-garde tradition. The vast majority of the shots are works of art and cinematic beauty, the soundtrack is epic and fitting. The story (if there is one) is disjointed and dreamlike; you will have no idea why there are jellyfish, dinosaurs, or people on the beach, but you probably will know why it won that most prestigious of prizes the Palme d’Or.