My friend and I were both very much looking forward to seeing Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, as it has been getting the kind of awe inspired reviews from film festivals that indicated to us that the cinema wouldn’t be filled with the sort of vile little popcorn munchers who chatter incessantly from the trailer to the closing credits.
We booked our tickets at one of those fancy-pants cinemas, you know the sort, the ones with the plush seating, foot stools and booze service and so, with vino in hand, we settled in for some deliciously cultural film snobbery.
I was faced with one of the worst crimes a film can inflict on a cinefile – I had trouble keeping my eyes open! I can forgive a film for being a bit trashy and low brow (Tank Girl and Legally Blonde, you will always have a place in my heart), I can forgive a film for being a thinly veiled re-hash of previous films (Avatar, I’m talking about you. Apologise to Kevin Costner and we’ll say no more about it) but for being boring, pretentious and tedious? There is no excuse.
I can imagine the film pitch went a little something like this: Director, Terrence Malick, on a night out with Brad and Sean, necking tequila shots and slurring “I’ve got this awesome story, it’s aaaaawesome. It’s about the universe and stuff. And *hic* I’m not going to make a film, I’m going to make a VISION! You two are the my best, best friends. Who’s round is it?”. It should have stayed at film school.
The film basically centres on Brad Pitt as the not perfect father of a family in the 50’s, he has three kids and an insipid wife. There is a tragedy involving one of their sons. We flash forward to Sean Penn walking round a modern-day city, looking pensive. He doesn’t say much, just walks around modern angular architecture, looking, well… pensive. We’re supposed to take from this pensive look/architecture combo that he’s troubled by the relationship he had with daddy (Brad Pitt) and that he’s feeling lost and overwhelmed by modern society. Try less caffeine, Sean.
We cut back to some more 1950’s (lack of) action, hoping to see whatever tragedy it is that befalls Brad and Mrs Insipid, which could possibly offer some faint hint of story arc but then we’re suddenly launched into what feels like an hour of an acid trip, as experienced by Patrick Moore. Lots of spacey, arty, swirly stuff with moody music, supposedly designed to make the audience contemplate the birth of the Universe and marvel at God’s mighty power. And then there are dinosaurs. Dinosaurs?!?!
Let me recap the story so far. Brad Pitt in the 1950’s, Sean Penn looking constipated among some sky scrapers, yawn inducing swirly shit. Dinosaurs.
The film ambles on like this for another painful hour or so of eyelid drooping tedium; Brad Pitt being a not perfect dad (big whoop), Sean Penn gazing up at tall buildings (yawn) and then more of the swirly shit and all the characters of the film walking round in white robes which is apparently the end of the Universe. Or a Pink Floyd music video. I’m not too sure.
When the film finally ended, there was an uncomfortable silence across the whole of the cinema indicative of slack-jawed disbelief, as the collective mass contemplated whether they should pretend they “got it” and try to appear highbrow and claim to feel “moved” or admit they thought it was a load of self-indulgent tosh. The silence was soon destroyed as my friend and I looked at each other and burst out laughing uncontrollably. Far from being ostracised for our derision of Malick’s “vision”, the man next to us nodded in approval and summed it up perfectly: “Emperor’s new clothes”.