Early Buzz: Terrence Malick's 'The Tree Of Life'

Well, it's out in the open now. Terrence Malick's new film The Tree of Life, many years in the making and the subject of massive speculation and anticipation over the past two years, has premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and the reaction is mixed. I've been generally avoiding reviews in anticipation of my own screening tomorrow afternoon (and Peter is seeing it right now, which may lead to a review this evening) but figured we should pass along some of the first reactions. They range from 'brilliant' to 'pretentious' — in other words, the first responses to The Tree of Life are the responses to Terrence Malick's entire career, cast in miniature.

One of the first things that we heard, via Twitter, was that the debut screening — for which the line was reportedly quite impressive, rendering the wait to get in nearly as long as the film itself — ended with a smattering of boos. But this is Cannes. People boo. It happens a lot. In this case, we're talking about only the fifth film in the 40-year career of a director that is one of cinema's most analyzed creators. Expectations for The Tree of Life were particularly high, and so some specifically vehement reactions were to be expected from those who found it lacking.

After the break we've got a brief round-up of some reactions. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive report, but rather a snapshot of the first takes.

We can kick off with the positive. The Guardian called the film " a cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love." Make of that what you will. THR praises Bradd Pitt's performance as the domineering patriarch of a '50s family, and calls the film "a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind's place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amidst its narrative imprecisions." The review is one of many to invoke 2001, as well.

On Twitter, James Rocci said,

TREE OF LIFE: Malick goes from Genesis to the end times, pausing in '50s America, and will lose many along the way. Gorgeous, shapeless..

following with,

Yes, some booed at TREE OF LIFE's end, but a) far more clapped, b) wouldn't a monobloc of opinion be dull? and, of course, c) jerks abound.

The Film Stage and The Playlist are cautiously positive about the film, while Movieline goes all out with a thumbs-down, calling the film "a gargantuan work of pretension and cleverly concealed self-absorption." Total Film echoed that sentiment on Twitter, calling the film "visually breathtaking and technically masterful, but excruciatingly drawn out and annoyingly pretentious."

The film's closing sequence seems to be a sticking point for many — I'm not even reading the details on that, so I can't pass them along, but you can probably get info in one of the many reviews posted so far. I'll stop here; there is already an additional flood of reviews available, and we'll have something up soon.