Monday, April 19, 2010

We Can't Wait #1: The Tree of Life

Nathaniel: And so we come to the top film in our List O' Impatience called "We Can't Wait: Summer and Beyond" There's still neither trailer nor official stills. With Malick, you always have to wait. Even when you feel you can't.

The Tree of Life
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Fiona Shaw (in the 1950s) Sean Penn and Joanna Going (in present day)
Synopsis (don't read if you don't wanna know the very basic template) Malick has described the film as a "mystical epic". There's rumored to be a section of the film about prehistoric Earth. But most of what we know is that it's a story in two main parts. First, a story about the eldest boy in a young family in the 1950s (Brad Pitt is the father) and the loss of innocence. The second part is about the boy as a disillusioned adult man (Sean Penn)
Brought to you Apparition. That's Bob Berney's new distribution company that is obviously thinking Quality + Oscar. Last year they brought us Bright Star and The Young Victoria and this year the fine Aussie noir The Square and the rock bio The Runaways.
Expected Release Date god only knows. It's Malick.

As much as I am eager to see this, I can wait until Malick is finished. I feel we could have avoided all that New World confusion if awards season hadn't rushed that film into strangely blink-and-miss multiple versions.

Robert: At this point I think I'd just be happy if The Tree of Life is finished in my lifetime. I don't begrudge Malick his slow work style (after all it results in masterpieces) but my anticipation is turning into impatience. I blame the sexy allure of the unknown. Think about it. Malick's last movie was based on a historical story we were all familiar with. The one before that was based (albeit loosely) on a book. But this is the first time in over thirty years we've really had no idea what he's cooking up.

Colin Farrell in The New World (2005)

I can't imagine the distribution will be as botched as it was with The New World. This has to be poised as the big Oscar contender of the year. I can even recall reading that Malick was prepared to get less elusive and campaign (though that has yet to be seen).

Is it me or are there an unusual number of mysterious movies coming out this year?

Nathaniel: It's not just you. But none are as mysterious as this. Even when Malick's movies are based on true familiar stories they feel somewhat ethereal.That's the wrong word. Otherworldly. Otherwordly it is. New Worlds. I assume Malick has to be the alpha and omega of why we're all interested in this one. So anyone care to share when they first fell for Malick's work and why?

Jose: I was twelve when I saw The Thin Red Line, it was my first Malick and I couldn't make sense of a single thing other than the fact that it was so green. That's all I remember from it now actually: leaves and soldiers.

<-- Jim Caviezel in The Thin Red Line (1998)

I figured it all out almost a decade later when I took on the task of watching all of Malick's films (it's not that big a filmography I know) and saw how nature was such a predominant part of his work. I think I fell in love with it when I saw the performances he got out of Sam Shepard in Days of Heaven and especially Q'Orianka Kilcher in The New World. The way their characters are at complete balance between the natural and the ethereal is breathtaking.

Craig: I really like that I don't know a great deal about this one, and indeed many of the more attention-worthy films coming out later in the year. But this adds to that Malick allure, as you say Robert. There were two recent films - one late last year (Where the Wild Things Are); one earlier this year (Shutter island) - where I successfully managed to avoid anything and everything said about them. I wanted to keep it all a surprise. And it worked well; I enjoyed both completely spoiler-free.There have been certain films in the past where I'll read as much as possible, and the hype I build for myself for them doesn't always pan out. I don't think we'll get a great amount of pre-release information on Tree of Life either. And I've found this works particularly well with Malick's stuff. Because he doesn't make too many films in any given decade, this is all kind of in keeping with his secrecy and mystique. This basic plot premise (which I did read - I slap my own wrists!) does sound really allusive and more than a bit oblique, which leads me to think that his themes will be broad as hell and all-encompassing. As he gets older is he grasping for those ever more grand subject matters?

The first Malick film I saw was his second (or third if you count the short Lanton Mills): Days of Heaven. I liked the look and feel, and the music struck me as nice, but I was really too young to actually grasp what it was really all about. Then I saw Badlands (ace), and his others over time, and now I've since re-watched Heaven again (several times now). Although I like to think I have a better grasp of its mood, climate and sense of evaporating time (and the music is still next to godliness), I still, gladly, can't fully comprehend why it's so evocative. It's probably my favourite of his still. Richard Gere hasn't been better; Brooke Adams and Linda Manz were just so perfectly cast; and although it's been commented on to the nth degree - and is a rather shopworn phrase now - but all that 'magic hour' photography is just as fresh and spellbinding today - it's just so easy on the eye!

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven feels kinda unfinished, unresolved in a way, too. One of the main things I love about it is that, even though the film technically ends, it's easy to believe that the story continues and resonates beyond that point. So I guess it's a 'first love' situation with Days. I love me some Malick - bring on the Tree!

JA: I can't remember if it was Badlands or Days of Heaven that caused me to fall for Malick, but getting to see Badlands on a big screen a couple years ago cemented my impression that when it comes to Malick, the bigger the better. Somehow I missed The New World in theaters - I don't know how that happened, but they did mess up that movie's release something bad - but seeing Badlands splashed across a giant screen made me realize what I've been missing watching them on little TV boxes.

<--- Sissy Spacek in Badlands (1973)

So, not knowing much about the plot, that alone is what's got me enthusiastic here - the chance to spy his visuals once again in epic scope. And that there might be an IMAX companion-piece is only further blowing my mind. I fully intend to die in the theater from too much damn beauty, and I can't imagine a better way to go.

Nathaniel: I hope you live but I heartily second the sentiment.

And on that breathtaking note, readers, we conclude this year's We Can't Wait: Summer and Beyond series. Hope you enjoyed. Tell us about your first Malick experience. If you haven't had one, get to it soon before this movie appears.

"We Can't Wait: Summer and Beyond" complete series: The "orphan" picks Nathaniel (Burlesque), JA (Love and Other Drugs), Jose (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Craig (What's Wrong With Virginia?), Robert (True Grit) and Dave (Brighton Rock); Team Film Experience Countdown #12 It's Kind of a Funny Story, #11 Sex & the City 2, #10 Scott Pilgrim vs the World, #9 Somewhere, #8 The Kids Are All Right, #7 The Illusionist, #6 Toy Story 3, #5 Inception, #4 Rabbit Hole, #3 Never Let Me Go, #2 Black Swan and #1 The Tree of Life.


downbythewater said...
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downbythewater said...

I took a class in college on Transcendental cinema and naturally (no pun intended) we viewed all 4 of his films. I saw them in chronological order and cannot begin to choose a favorite. Needless to say, I need Tree of Life in my life.

James T said...

Confession: I've never seen a film by Malick. I'm ashamed but I will fix that. I think I will start with one of his 70's movies.

Casey said...

certainly a the big film of the year-cant wait

Burning Reels said...

I think I also initially saw Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven too young. His debut, Badlands is probably still numero uno for me though.

1, Badlands
2, The Thin Red Line
3, Days of Heaven
4, The New World

The cinematography in his films are nothing short of dazzling!

A.R. said...

I've only more recently been exposed to Malick's work, Days of Heaven and New World back in 07-08ish. Haven't gotten around to seeing the rest, but those two are fantastic. If anything, beautifully filmed. Definitely looking forward to Tree of Life.

Dean said...

So everybody CAN wait for The Social Network?

No Bad Movies said...

I saw Badlands on TV in the late 70's. I'm 44. Maybe a bit older than some at the film experience blog. I saw Days Of Heaven on a Malick marathon about 10 years ago on the big screen. And I saw The Thin Red Line and The Real World in theaters. I liked TTRL better than TRW, but both are equisitely shot camera wise.
I'm looking forward to The Tree Of Life. But it's been such a long build up, that I'm going to try not to anticipate it and put it out of my mind, so I don't ruin it for myself and hype it too much. 90% of the time when I do that, I am disappointed.

Jason Adams said...

I was so put off by Benjamin Button that Fincher, whom I adored so much before it, is gonna have to make me come to him now. It's in his hands! Casting Justin Timberlake in a leading role is not instilling confidence. Although! Casting Andrew Garfield in another leading role almost combats that. So I personally am waiting on Social Network to be in front of me before I make up my mind.

Drew C said...
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Drew C said...

I saw Badlands when I was just 17. Lifechanging doesn't begin to describe the terse landscapes, the angsty anxiety, and the complete surrender that takes me over when I watch a film by Terry Malick. He reminds me of Walt Whitman or William Faulkner, and how great would an adaptation of "The Sound and the Fury" be by this genius auteur. Your emotions seem to rise to the surface no matter which one of his film's your watching. I need Tree of Life to come out this year; it would be a great start to the decade.

Julienne said...

I love war movies. And when I was about 15, I went to see The Thin Red Line in the cinema, on my own. The movie was oddly quiet, but I liked it. The first time I saw Jim Caviezel too.

Lev Lewis said...

I saw "Badlands" years ago when I wasn't quite yet schooled enough to know what made a film good for me. I remember expecting something really violent and gritty, and was instead served this dreamy, slow-paced, slightly humorous, voice-over-filled character/landscape study with a really odd marimba score.

So, It wasn't until a few months ago, seeing "The New World" on a big screen, that everything really changed for me. I'd seen the film on DVD and loved it, and I'd seen "Days of Heaven" as well (and loved that). But, in a large, dark theatre, without any other distractions, it was as close to a life changing experience as a film's ever been for me. I feel like how some filmmakers (Hou, PT) demonstrate the power of cinema, Malick reveals the beauty of the world. So, I'm just a little bit excited about "Tree of Life".

Greg Boyd said...

This movie is going to be epic. I love "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" (though I hated "The New World"), and this one looks very similar to the former two. Can't wait.

Agustin said...

I've only seen The New World.
And it was certainly not life changing.
But after reading all of these praises, i feel kind of ashamed.
The thing is, I know have to see them on film, and I can't even find the dvds down here.. I don't want to ruin the experience by watching them on a 4:3 17' PC screen.
At least days of heaven is in blu ray.. next time in the us


they really all should be seen on the big screen. it's the way to go with Malick. and not just for the size of the images but for --as you say Lev -- being without distractions. They're supposed to transport you and that's really hard for DVDs to do when you've got your family and your pets and your phone calls and your computers and your kitchen and everything else that can keep you from being inside the film.

have yet to see Days of Heaven or Badlands projected on the big screen :( thankfully I got to see the others in theatrical release

Glenn Dunks said...

Days of Heaven would rank in my top 10 of all time. Thin Red Line would be very high too, as would The New World. I'm not as high on Badlands, but it's still quite great. I hope there's dinosaurs in The Tree of Life

Can't wait, indeed.

Luiserghio said...

I really CAN'T wait, Malick is the kind of director, that even if you don't like the movie the first time, you will love it the second time, that was exactly what happen to me, with The New World, the first time I'd see it, I give it 6/10, and after several views, it ends being one of my top 50 of the last decade, he is an artist, a poet. Tree of Life will be a truly film experience :) Malick + Lubezky = ♥, this was my #2 "I can´t wait" last year, this year is #1, I hope Malick finish it, for my own sanity.

Anonymous said...

Where is the rum diary in I can not wait series?

Michael W. said...

I'll let Malick take as long as he wants to finish The Tree of Life. I know that he will deliver.

My first Malick film was Badlands. I bought it on LaserDisc in the mid 90s and liked it a lot. But I really couldn't stop comparing it to Bonnie and Clyde and I like that much better. But then Malick blew me away with The Thin Red Line and I was hooked.

I anticipated The New World like crazy, and was not dissapointed. It is and was an amazing experience. I expect nothing less from The Tree of Life.

Greg Boyd said...

Agustin, you should see them any way you can get your hands on them (legally of course). If that means watching them on a small screen, by all means do so. I'm sure they're great on the big screen, but "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" are richly rewarding films any way you look at them.

Jason Adams said...

What G1000 said. As incredible as they are projected giant-like, I've still only seen Days of Heaven on a small screen and still it blows me away every single time. (But man what I'd give for a theater screening of it!)

Andrew P said...

I saw The Thin Red Line when I was ten years old. Everyone in my family hated it, especially my Dad who was hoping to see a movie about Marines on Guadalcanal. I however fell in love with the film, everything about it. I think I enjoyed it to since I was born in the Solomon Islands where the movie was shot. Today when I watch that film I cant help but be amazed. Terrence Malick is a genius.

Unknown said...

Malick is, to me, simply the only currently working director who can stand comparison with the giants of the film art... Hitchcock, Chaplin, Welles in English language cinema, Renoir, the great Japanese triumvirate and Bresson for the rest of the cinema.
Surely cinephiles have every right to hope that, in their lifetime, a film greater than 'Citizen Kane' might be made. From where I sit, 'Tree of Life' (or some, perhaps more intimate subsequent film by Malick) is the best possibility...

Keep watching the masterpieces....