Sunday, 8 January 2012
Suppose a would-be avant-garde director is given a Hollywood budget and the services of a couple of A-list movie stars to work with. The movie will have a score written in fashionable neo-classical style by a composer who would secretly like to have been Aaron Copland. Some six hours of script are cut down to two and a further plot layer featuring a biblical story is excised. What’s left is Terrence Malick’s movie The Tree of Life. This family story, situated in an eternity of exploding worlds and extinct reptiles, is set in a small-town America that the director clearly sees as ‘universal’. The nuclear family, its neat house and neat front lawn, its neighbourhood populated by tail-finned 1950s American automobiles is viewed as archetypal. In this world the Bible functions both as a how-to book and as a book of premonition. Such a perspective isn’t all that far from that of Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party. Between the extended scenes of family interaction (‘society’ is seemingly non-existent: this is Margaret Thatcher’s world too) we are presented with mostly darkened shots showing the entrance of a cave from within. This continual experience of being born together with repeated sequences of swimming made this viewer feel as though he were drowning in amniotic fluid. The Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or and numerous other awards. But if I want to watch a non-linear ‘hometown’ movie, my choice any day would be Guy Maddin’s witty and often moving My Winnipeg.