27. “The Tree of Life”, Terrence Malick (2011)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

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The Tree of Life

dir. Terrence Malick scr. Terrence Malick cin. Emmanuel Lubezki with Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan

In 100 words: Doubtlessly the most ambitious movie on this list, Malick’s magnum opus portrays life from the birth of the universe to the imagined afterlife, framed around the childhood memories of a character. Lubezki’s stunning camera weaves and moves with such effortless grace, synching with Malick’s rhythm to produce some of the most beautiful images in history. The visual elegance is paired with such uncommon tenderness found in those childhood scenes, and the stirring and operatic grandeur of those universe scenes, while the narration’s spiritual yearnings resonate deeply. It’s a lovely portrait of life, spiritual but never solemn, precious but not cuddly.

Other Movies for Context: Spiritually rich and elegant, this is Malick at his most Malickian without pushing towards caricature. His most recent efforts mimic this film’s transcendental style but they’re pale imitations of this. His The Thin Red Line (1998) feels closest in terms of depth and spirituality but married to a war movie. I think of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…Spring (2004) by Kim Ki-duk because they push the boundaries of their director’s spiritual yearnings, while offering a magnificent take on the life cycle. Similarly, but to more boring effect, Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East? (1989) by Bae Yong-gyun, takes on the spiritual resonance found in life, without the grandness of either two films mentioned earlier.

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