Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tree of Life Is Awe Inspiring

The Tree of Life is the newest film from genius Terrence Malick. It recently won the Palme d' Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but even there it was polarizing. Apparently somewhere between 5-10% of filmgoers have walked out of the film, calling it too long and boring. Honestly, I feel bad for these people, including ChicagoNow critic Mark Shuster - I hope he isn't paid for his opinions, because they are exceptionally shallow and meaningless.

Instead, I would like to include this snippet from Roger Ebert's perfect distillation of the film:

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer "to" anyone or anything, but prayer "about" everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.

Truly, I am not surprised that some moviegoers would walk out on this film, as their chief complaints - that it's too long, it's too quiet, it's non-linear structure doesn't give obvious answers - are all accurate. But those aspects are not negatives, rather they are strengths. Most people do not want to "think" about any form of media they are consuming - they simply want entertainment. This desire has caused all forms of art to become cheapened, to become fast food for the senses. Why do you think that Fast & the Furious 5 made over 100 million dollars?

Sadly, most people simply lack the fundamental taste to be able to approach challenging art forms. They would rather not learn or grow through interaction with artistic mediums merely because those acts can be (and usually are) challenging, and require active mental participation on behalf of the viewer. This effort is flatly not given by most consumers - even "film critics" like Mark Shuster. And this fact is enormously depressing to me, as those un-participative viewers never gain the fruits of the labor of the artist. As an artist I cannot understand this rejection of intellectual dialogue - it makes me feel like what I do is forfeit. But as a thinking human being, it makes me exasperated with the human race.

Go see this film. Go see it in the theater. Expect it to be long. Expect it to be quiet. Expect it to be beautiful, and transformative, like all good art is. Don't expect it to be like other films. Let it wash over you, don't fight it.

Let it wash through you, like a prayer.