Terrence Malick, director of “The Tree of Life,” his stars do the walking and talking yesterday. Malick skipped both the red carpet premiere and the press conference for his movie, letting Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain fill in for him. Not only did Malick abandon his stars, he also snubbed Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi, and Fox chief Jim Gianopolous. That takes nerve, doesn’t it?
Although god knows what Murdoch was thinking as “Tree of Life” unspooled before the black tie audience. I’m sure he was relieved that the film– which also sports “Jurassic Park” like dinosaurs— was mostly paid for by producer Bill Pohlad. The two hour twenty minute extravaganza is totally incoherent, with lots of stuff unexplained and long sections of gorgeous nature video-photography created by computers juxtaposed with the impressionistic story of a Texas family circa 1959.
I went back and watched “Tree of Life” again last night to try and figure out some things I thought I’d missed the first time around. It didn’t matter. The movie makes no actual sense. At the very start, Pitt and Chastain receive news that one of their three sons has died. But in the movie, we only see the boys as children. Later, Sean Penn–who plays the eldest son as an adult–remarks that his brother died at 19. In that first scene, the death news comes in a telegram. But we –the audience–never finds out how or why he’s died. Was it in a war?
So I asked Jessica Chastain who we ran into at dinner after the premiere. Chastain had changed from her gown into jeans, and was obviously not hobnobbing with Brad, Angelina–who stopped the show on the red carpet a few hours earlier, literally, with gasps, Sean Penn or maybe even Malick (he had to eat didn’t he?). I asked Jessica who died, and why? “Well you don’t know this but he died in Mexico,” she said. She told me it was the second son, and that he was the favorite. Who knew? Ah ha! I do hope Fox releases back story notes for use during viewing of the film.
You do have to watch “Tree of Life” twice. I’ll tell you why: in the first half, Malick flashes split second clips from later in the film. The problem is, you have no idea what they mean; you even sort of don’t acknowledge them because they go by so quickly. On the second viewing, you recognize these images from the previous viewing. Also, there are dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs.
Here’s my tip for Rupert and Fox: take out all the nature stuff and release it as a separate IMAX film. That’s where you’ll make the money back. Call it “Malick’s Universe.” Or, to make it easier, “Days of Heaven II.”