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May 27, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt, which won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival last weekend, continues to attract much applause from critics as it opens in limited release this weekend. Ironically, most of the positive reviews anticipate that the film will also receive a negative reaction from some viewers — as it did at Cannes, where a handful of critics loudly booed it following a press screening and went on to excoriate it in their reviews. (The public reacted similarly; one woman interviewed by a news crew after the screening of another film praised it for its compactness, “whereas Tree of Life …” She completed her sentence by throwing an arm in a sweeping gesture and groaning. In his review in the New York Post, Lou Lumenick writes, “While it’s entirely possible to dismiss this philosophizing head trip of a movie as pretentious, tedious and often inscrutable New Age hooey … you may be doing so at your own peril. … It’s overflowing with powerful images that will stay with me a long time, even if I still can’t explain some of them.” Similarly Claudia Puig writes in USA Today, “Some will dismiss its overarching themes and elliptical visuals as pretentious. Others might question its quasi-biblical images. But the artistry in every frame is undeniable.” All of the critics agree that the movie will provoke meaning-of-life discussion and debate. As Joe Neumaier puts it in the New York Daily News: “If you find yourself in its sphere, your ideas about it will surely differ from everyone else’s, which is in itself a small miracle.” Some critics appear to want to outdo one another in their rapturous acclaim. How often does one see words like these, written by Justin Chang in the pages of Variety: “The rare film to urgently question, yet also accept, the presence of God in a fallen world, The Tree of Life understands that every childhood is a creation story unto itself, and just as a new planet is formed by the elements, so an emerging soul is irrevocably shaped by the forces that nurture it.” Or these words by A.O. Scott of the New York Times, in the entertainment pages of any newspaper: “The sheer beauty of this film is almost overwhelming, but as with other works of religiously minded art, its aesthetic glories are tethered to a humble and exalted purpose, which is to shine the light of the sacred on secular reality.” It’s a light, however, that not all viewers will be able to see, let alone appreciate. As Kenneth Turan observes in the Los Angeles Times. Malick’s visual ruminations about life, death, destiny and the soul “tend to overwhelm the story.” Thus The Tree of Life, he concludes, “its enormous advantages notwithstanding, ends up a film that demands to be admired but cannot be easily embraced.”