Posts from 15th July 2011

Jul 11

Film 2Oh!!: Raiders Of The Last Archetype

Do You See + FT3 comments • 398 views

37: The Tree Of Life (cinema)

Terrance Malick’s divisive The Tree Of Life is probably my favourite Malick since Badlands. Which isn’t saying an awful lot, me and Malick have rarely clicked, but I was much more engaged with it than I was with even The New World (which I saw in an excellent double bill with Pocohontas so I knew what was going on)*. And I cannot say I particularly liked Malick’s everything but the kitchen sink history of creation / forensic family drama. But it was very interesting, a fascinating watch stylistically but, and this is where I usually part company with Malick, also narratively. Particularly if you top and tail the film, lopping of the National Geographic and the Ten People You Meet In Heaven segments, you are left with a ninety minute impressionistic view of a disfunctional fifties family.

Or at least cinema, and cinematic technique, wants us to feel it is disfunctional. The air of dread around the dinner table and Brad Pitt’s hard, driven father figure all suggest that there is more to this scenario than meets the eye. The undercurrent of tension plays well, the kids are our viewpoint characters and as there is barely a narrative, tension fills the gaps. But even when Pitt’s father explodes, the film suffers from a difficult dichotomy. Film has taught us that aggressive dads are bad, that dramatically there is no smoke without fire and dread has to come from somewhere. But at the same time Jessica Chastain’s mother is so gossamer thin, an angel made flesh in her sons eyes that any comparison with the father will make him feel wanting. The most burning question I wanted to ask others on the way out is if Brad Pitt’s father is a bad dad? Or at least is he abusive, bullying or just the way Dad’s were in the fifties? Because it strikes me that I knew the dread around the dinner table, there was real sanction in “wait til your father gets home“, and the role of the father as disciplinarian was often out of necessity and not seen as a bad one. It was the way that, up until recently, Western families were.