I just responded to a friend's email asking me what I thought of Tree of Life. Here's what I wrote:
I had a minimal response to Tree of Life. I decided afterwards to be down with it even though I didn't much enjoy myself watching it. It captures some stuff about youth, about running around with your pals and doing bad shit, getting into trouble for no reason even though you're not a bad kid. There's that moment where the kid takes that ladies' undergarment or something to the creek and I had a visceral response to the image of the water, after having seen dinosaurs walk through what might be the same body of water earlier in the film. It was a "whoa man" kind of feeling, and i don't know how much substance there is to that, but it was an enjoyable feeling.
Movies like Tree of Life (are there movies like Tree of Life?) get us to acknowledge the troubling sameness of most movies. There's really no reason why we shouldn't be seeing movies that cover modern life as well as life before humans, or that have major stars with unclear roles just mumbling disconnected voiceovers, or movies that spend significant time just playing with light while telling elliptical stories. The fact that we seem to feel obligated to justify or understand those things means we're paying attention to the wrong things. We're asking ourselves "Why is this movie like this?" instead of "What do i make of this right now in the context of my life, my experiences, my feelings?" We should be asking ourselves what a movie does to us and what it makes us think about, not necessarily whether every image is justified by its context in the rest of the film.