Saturday 22 September 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare grapples with the Criterion edition of Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE (USA, 2011)

All these screens come from the second half of the new 188 minute extended cut of Malick's The Tree of Life which has just come out through Criterion on a double Blu-ray disc edition with the Theatrical cut. That version was released in what was then (and still is) a reference quality Blu disc by Fox a few years back.
Having only ever seen this cut, like everyone else, I decided my disappointment with the film which bordered on intense dislike, needed to be fed with a re-viewing of the new work. 
So far so good. The new color grading done by Malick and his DP, Emanuel Lubezki is slightly warmer and gives the image, which was already completely mind blowing, greater depth while maintaining the lightness and gorgeous felicity of the original color palette. If ever Criterion could have committed to doing a title in the new UHD 4K format this should have been it.
So I achieved one viewing of it earlier today, broken up by three interruptions, and I will give it one more without any interruptions later. I feel far more at ease these days with what Stratton used to call his loathed "wobble cam". I have never had major problems anyway with hand held photography, definitely not in the hands of skilled artists like these. 
I think in fact Lubezki and Malick have literally unchained the camera from the formal tyranny of the tripod, and in the process the film ceases to indulge or even permit more or less straight lines. Conceptually and visually every shot tilts, travels, shifts its angle and never leads anywhere except to allow itself to exist. The formal purposefulness of this cubism is most profound I think in the first half of the movie in which autobiographical narrative is less prominent than the second half, and unlike my original viewing back in 2013 or so, I was engaged far more by the movie. 
The second half turns into a different key, which is why I've taken screens from it. And it's in this last 90 minutes that the extra material - all of it I believe extensions of existing characters and locations - takes the picture deeper into personal conflicts. But it also gets much more churchy. I could smell this coming a mile off, but ignored it until, in the end that became impossible. Just a minute before the final credits, in the last multi-time, multi-generational sequence in which everyone is brought together in some supernatural framework in a transcendental beach scene, Jessica Chastain's "wife/mother" character picks up one of her children and whispers to the sky "I offer up my child to you". 
And so it all comes crashing down. I will defer to David Denby, of all people, a critic I don't usually read or seek out. In reviewing the original movie back in 2011 he says, in effect: "I have never met any woman in my life who has or would ever say they offer their child to any god." I think his meaning is clear and I concur absolutely. 
Thus the entire edifice, so powerfully wrought and felt, for me is ultimately abandoned to something as meretricious and as offensive as this hideous biblical level of subjugation to some fucking theocratic drivel. 
The movie has its admirers, and sadly or not I remain not one of them. I will watch it one more time, for the record, and put it away, probably forever

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