The better half and I (all about us) finally got around to seeing “The Tree of Life.” I (all about me) sat down to watch with ambivalence. Some people I know (and even respect) loved it, and others thought it was tedious. I now place myself in the latter category, while admitting that the cinematography was breathtaking. I wish I could have done the movie justice by seeing it on the big screen. Even so, I don’t think even an Imax experience could salvage a smidgeon of coherence from this bloated film.
Take, for instance, the plot. What exactly is it? Not to give the story (such as it is) away, but a tragic outcome awaits one of the members of the featured family. And we needed 140 minutes to learn that this development deeply moved parents and siblings? Meanwhile, after all that time we have no more of a clue about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy than we do about the vastness of the universe. What we do learn — news flash — is that the family suffered as a result.
Oh, wait. Maybe this tragedy was the consequence of the Big Bang theory. If so, that might explain the inclusion of a half-hour sequence of shortish takes that seem to show the evolution of the physical universe. Again, visually bedazzling but what is the connection to the family?
As for character development or dialogue, “The Artist” goes well beyond “The Tree of Life” even though the former is about a silent-film era movie star. Even so, “The Artist” has virtually more dialogue than “The Tree of Life.” The DVD we watched instructed viewers to turn the volume way up. That helped us to figure out a few of the words that sounded more like grunts and accompany various visual sequences. But cranking the volume up to 80 wasn’t enough to come anywhere near figuring out the mother of the family. I sure hope feminists were upset by the film because this woman – who was not as visually stunning as the Milky Way – had no excuse for a presence in the movie other than to observe or weep.
But for all of its defects, “The Tree of Life” was successful in one very important way. It confirmed what most viewers suspect about Sean Penn. The experience of the boy who grows into the adult played by Penn must have been exactly what the actor was like when an eleven-year old – willful, devious, and rebellious against a disciplinarian father. Still, I didn’t need 140 minutes to have that hunch confirmed.