The Tree Of Life.

26 Jan

The concept of film as art has been argued about for many years now. Is film art? Or is it many techniques being collaborated to create something that falls short of this merit? What is art? Isn’t art defined by the individual, with the meaning or opinion of that individual being what determines its ‘art’ label? In my opinion I believe the latter. Who is to say what is art and what is not? Much like political agenda or religious belief, it is down to the individual to chose what they do or don’t believe in. One person could believe that this is art:

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László Moholy-Nagy. K VII 1922. Oil on canvas

They might believe that as its own meaning is not obvious, it gives you the chance to analyse and participate with the art, to personalise its meaning and bring your own interpretation to its concept. With art in terms of paintings, graffiti, sculpture etc, I would have to disagree with this sentiment, as I much prefer an obvious meaning. I may not agree with that meaning or its connotations but it will still create the same response, a thought process full of interpretation and argument, as well as giving you an insight into the artist themselves. Take this piece for instance by the world renowned graffiti artist Banksy:

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The concept is so simple and its meaning so astronomical, but only from my own perspective. Like the piece before it, the meaning is all relative.

Where this ties in with our feature film, The Tree of Life, is that what Terrence Malick has created some would consider art.

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The film centres around Jack (young Jack played by Hunter McCracken and old played by Sean Penn) and his family in Waco Texas in 1956. We follow Jack as he struggles to deal with his parents conflicting philosophies, particularly his father Mr. O’Brien’s (Brad Pitt) authoraterian approach to love, and the loss of his brother in the Vietnam war. This plot sounds reasonably average but what Malick has brought to the big screen is so far beyond that.

It is made up of continuous edits, each frame/scene lasting no longer than 20 seconds allowing no time to digest what is happening in front of you. The film is also split into around four parts. Part One sees the basic plot foundations laid before us, the loss of one of the sons and Jacks struggle to come to terms with it even well into the future as Penn. Part Two is what can only be described as an episode of Planet Earth, a visual reincarnation of the beginning of time and life (including dinosaurs)…

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If I haven’t just lost you…Part Three is where we get into the nitty-gritty of family life and what it means to be suppressed by Pitts way of rule. Part Four brings more wildlife-documentary footage and a dream-like sequence in Old-Jacks world. Part Three is the only bit I wish I had watched. It is not to say that the others were bad – Part Two was visually stunning and incredibly unique, and when tied in with the films conflicting idea of Nature vs Grace it is very relevant – but ultimately the film is so disjointed and fragile that it is hard to become attached to any part of it. If it hadn’t have been for about four scenes in Part Three where by the relationship between Jack and his brother is delicately and beautifully represented I would write this film off completely.

The Tree of Life demands so much from its audience. Much like many art forms it asks you to test the limits of your own imagination and not to simply look at the piece but to absorb it and decipher its meaning, to interpret and engage with every element. However it begs the question that if we have to search and search for meaning ourselves is there even one to begin with? And if not why don’t artists simply hang a blank canvas and filmmakers simply film darkness?

I believe that film is art, that its ability to divide opinion and allow for interpretation is what makes it so interesting and each piece so unique. What I struggle with is that a film like The Tree of Life promises so much but any meaning becomes completely lost through its ability to lose and frustrate its audience by over-complicating its intentions.

But then that is only my opinion. I implore you to look at this piece and make up your own mind.

Selling Point – Part Three and the astounding performance of Hunter McCracken.

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