Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Fright Night: The vampire strikes back… hunk, horns and all
Hong Kong, bird flu inspires end-of-the-world yarn
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Mesmerizing meditation on the beginning of days becomes metaphor for family’s journey into night
Meet Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien. This typical middle-class couple lives in the suburbs. They go to Sunday worship with their three children in tow. Mrs. O’Brien takes care of household chores. Mr. O’Brien teaches the three siblings boxing. In between, father and sons wrestle under the shade of trees or take turns at bat in yard baseball.
You can see how Mr. O’Brien (played with sincerity by Brad Pitt) adores the children, playfully jostling, embracing and coddling them, making them feel safe and loved. But Mr. O’Brien proves to be a stickler for discipline; he soldiered in the war which ended only years back. He tells the children to address them “Father” and “Mother,” not “Dad” and “Mom.” Mrs. O’Brien (the absolutely luminous Jessica Chastain) faithfully watches all this loving activity through the window or from the clotheslines.
You sense love in its many splendored hues here – spousal, filial, parental, fraternal. But 15 years later when “The Tree of Life” actually begins (the scenes just described come out later in flashbacks), Mrs. O’Brien receives a telegram. One of the sons has died. He was 19. Dutifully she telephones Mr. O’Brien at the factory and together they mourn the death in the family. The grandmother (a cameo for Fiona Shaw) advises them to go past their grief. Life goes on, everything changes, she says. Creation itself is in a state of flux and only the creator’s light stays lit, unchanging.
At this point, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera dissolves (for everything in a Terrence Malick-directed movie is seamless) to the most stunning images, from the beginning of time when time itself was invented: swirling, fearsome seas; searing pre-volcanic lava; hot and mystic, mysterious mists; ominously sweeping kaleidoscopic clouds; dank, airless darkness.
If mathematics mixed with chaos could be rendered as an Albrecht Durer painting of Dante’s Inferno, you’re watching it. But wait, there’s a kind of hush all over the world now: cool, cold, bubbling water; moss and algae and rocks; dim light in the horizon; and below the water, oval shapes and forms coalescing and collapsing, adhering and cohering, all the time emitting energy concave and convex that radiates and creates forever more.
Soon a silken creature swims to the surface, fills its lungs with air, challenges the surroundings – a dinosaur. Timidly it treads on land, stepping on the head of a similar, wounded creature. We know that the newborn planet has reached 60 million years and that shortly a giant meteor will render these behemoths extinct.
No sooner has this grand celestial/terrestrial tour ended than the viewer is spirited into the glass and steel structures of a modern city. These manmade canyons echo the vastness of nature. Here, we espy one of the O’Brien sons, now 50 (played with silent grace by Sean Penn). The man’s tense composure parallels that of the viewer who has just glimpsed Malick’s vision of eternity… in the blink of an eye.
For that is what viewers willing to journey with this genius of the cinema will imbibe from “The Tree of Life” – the grace to realize that although one’s life may be but a blip on the cosmic screen, the very act of existence is as precious as it must have been for that first dinosaur of long ago but not far away.
My advice to those who have yet to see this opus – so they can muster their possible what-on-earth-is-happening impatience inside the theatre – is to note that the identity of the son who dies is unimportant, but that he dies at the age of 19. No other storyline fiat is of consequence.
Older cinephiles will tell you that “The Tree of Life” is only the 5th film of reclusive Terrence Malick who directed “Badlands” in 1973, “Days of Heaven” in 1978, “The Thin Red Line” twenty years later in 1998 and “The New World” in 2005.
Credit the film’s exquisite detailing to production designer Jack Fisk. Alexander Desplat did the magnificent original score which claims pride of place among the works of Brahms, Berlioz and Smetana which also grace the movie. Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber and Mark Yoshikawa edited Lubezki’s amazing photography. Fox Searchlight Pictures released the film.
“The Tree of Life” won the 2011 “Best Picture” award in Cannes; it runs for two hours and 18 minutes and is rated G (for Great).
Cristobal Labog has worked for advertising agencies in Manila, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between Trabzon on the Black Sea in Turkey and Mandaluyong City in the Philippines. For questions and comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org