Latest Posts

TREE OF LIFE, THE (Noah Buschel)

(The Tree of Life is distributed by Fox Searchlight and is now available on DVD and 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy. It opened in NYC and LA on Friday, May 27, 2010, and expands to many more cities in the subsequent six weeks, before opening nationwide on Friday, July 8. Visit the film’s official website to learn more.)

One has to face it in an unblinking manner. It demands one’s attention in a way that maybe no other movie has. It’s that challenging and strong. If you do face it, it will lock you in its death grip and give you nothing to hold onto. One is simply lost in the waves and time, getting rolled by Brahms. It’s like riding an Arabian horse.

Terrence Malick is dancing on the high wire. Where he goes on this one—there’s no net, there’s no craft, there’s no story, there’s no architecture—the movie is energy. No one else could even try this, except maybe Scorsese a while ago. But because the film is so naked and raw—even the slightest fracture or fraudulence breaks the spell. It’s like we’re being held up in the cosmos by one man’s breath in a hot air balloon. And when you see Malick start to huff and puff, the spell gets broken. And then you’re thrown out of the wave. And it’s just a movie on a screen. The brutal intensity of the natural wonder sequences crashes and shatters all over the beach. As superhumanly focused as a lot of the film is, it is just as slack and pat and lazy at the end.

It’s Malick’s insistence on a certain type of beauty that gets him to heaven, and in the end, won’t let him stay there. Something is missing in his arsenal. Eyes, cheekbones, whispers, napes of necks, ghostly glass, summer feet, leaves, dusty clouds, water… yes. Yes. But it never completely opens. For all the images of infinite space, Malick can never quite let go of beauty. And so the movie plummets to earth. Spirals down onto the beach. And the last scene is maybe one of the ugliest scenes I’ve ever seen. Jessica Chastain reaching with every facial muscle for grace. Sean Penn coked out in the sand, on his knees, surrounded by extras casting. This must be what vanity looks like. A puddle of lost youth clinging to the shore. It’s a truly nauseating display. The vulgarity of genius without love.

But, but, before that… It’s spirit booming. Uncut brilliance, calmness, diamond mind. And as many times as Malick shoots a little boy’s blank face and hollow eyes, and as many times as Brad Pitt and the kids do silly, bad improv and as many times as Malick is cornered by his own specific poetic slant—his elegant force is so liquid and gushing—it doesn’t matter. He actually gets to the point where he’s playing the wrong notes and they’re right. He takes us to that place where there is no mistake. “Did I wrong you?” Our own voice. A flash of light. And then falling. Crashing next to fat Orson and Brando, and mean Charlie, and Kubrick with his eyes wide shut.

— Noah Buschel

Liked it? Take a second to support Hammer to Nail on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Born in Philadelphia in 1978, Noah Buschel grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village. After spending some time as a contributing editor for Tricycle Magazine, he made his feature film debut with Bringing Rain, starring Adrian Grenier and Paz de la Huerta. Bringing Rain was produced by Belladonna Productions, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003, and was released by Plexifilm. His second feature, Neal Cassady, was produced by Jean Doumanian Productions. It starred Tate Donovan and Amy Ryan, and was released by IFC Films in 2008. His third film, The Missing Person, starred Michael Shannon and premiered at Sundance. Buschel was nominated for a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Director and the film was on IFC.Com's 2009 Ten Best List. His upcoming film is Mu, starring Jena Malone, based on Maura O'Halloran's Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Zen Saint.

  • Can you rewrite this review in english please?

    June 8, 2011
  • Travis Tickle

    This review is like playing a piano that has rotten molars instead of keys. It’s like drowning in a sea of applesauce, with half hearted CPR attempts by that disgusting fatass, Orson Welles. It’s like biting a Malaysian horse. A truly nauseating display.

    June 9, 2011
  • Jongorso

    great review!  thanks!

    June 9, 2011
  • Johngorso

    great review! thanks!

    June 9, 2011
  • Mary Wilderstein


    June 9, 2011
  • Codnel Fury

    orson welles is disgusting?  buschel is brilliant, but he sure attracts idiots.

    June 9, 2011
  • Gilligan Heartbreak

    Best review I have read on this film anywhere.

    June 11, 2011
  • Paul S

    I have to say, as a “review”, this really frustrated me too. As an “appreciation” of the movie, okay, but it doesn’t go very deep.

    The unnecessary comparisons to Scorsese and Welles and Kubrick… I have no idea why other people were going through your head when you watched Tree of Life. Or why they went through your head when you tried to write about it. The film pays no tribute to other directors. Are you trying to place Malick among other directors who have made masterpieces? Why those? There’s no similarity with any of Scorsese’s films stylistically, nor thematically (except maybe Kundun!). If you had to start namedropping, wouldn’t Resnais be a more apt comparison?

    You really didn’t have anything to say about nature, violence, will, mercy, beauty or spirituality after this movie? Just a list of things you liked and potshots at things you didn’t, then a list of other great directors?

    June 14, 2011
  • Falldaian

    That’s all you got? A list of things he liked and list of great directors and potshots at things he didn’t?
    What I got was best description I have seen of Tree Of Life.  As far as listing those other people(Brando By The Way is not really a director though he directed once)it seems more about putting Tree Of Life in context of film history.  How all film geniuses inevitably crash.  hence the title Watching Icarus Go.

    June 15, 2011
  • Virginaslim

    I appreciate a review of Tree Of Life that sees how good it is but also that it is very flawed.  Thank you.  So many critics have crapped all over themselves saying it is the greatest thing ever.  But it is a very flawed film.  Even Sean Penn has come out and complained about it.  I think a certain kind of critic, an arty blowhard if you will, feels like they need to jump on the Malick made an important film boat.  But this movie is a bit of a mess and sometimes exposes Malick as being precious.

    August 25, 2011
Post a Comment

Website branding logosWebsite branding logos