Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is short of a masterpiece but certainly great. A visually stunning and fluidly cinematic film where the images tell the story. But the editing is sometimes intrusive with some redundant jump cuts at the start. The mythic elements are largely superfluous and a touch heavy-handed, as is the reliance on the albeit achingly beautiful musical scoring. I wonder if limiting the scenario to the essential elements of the story would not have produced an elegiac masterpiece. Somehow, Sean Penn seems miscast - his angst has an arrogance that undermines the modest filaments of a more simple reality found in the childhood years. The scenes of thrusting towers of glass and steel are breathtaking but rather weak metaphors.
Yesterday before watching Malick's film I was re-reading Saul Bellow's masterful novel 'Herzog' and a particular passage struck me as very telling, and in retrospect particularly relevant to The Tree of Life. Herzog is being visited by a fellow academic who is waxing lyrical before Herzog's attractive wife: "Madeleine, "stuck away in the woods," was avid for scholarly conversation. Shapiro knew the literature of every field-he read all the publications; he had accounts with book dealers all over the world. When he found that Madeleine was not only a beauty but was preparing for her doctoral examination in Slavonic languages, he said, "How delightful!" And it was he himself who knew, betraying the knowledge by affectation, that for a Russian Jew from Chicago's West Side that "How delightful!" was inappropriate. A German Jew from Kenwood might have gotten away with it-old money, in the dry-goods business since 1880. But Shapiro's father had had no money, and peddled rotten apples from South Water Street in a wagon. There was more of the truth of life in those spotted, spoiled apples, and in old Shapiro, who smelled of the horse and of produce, than in all of these learned references."
Similarly, there is more truth in that Texas garden with the modest vegetable patch and scruffy lawn than in all those cosmic pyrotechnics.