Thursday, June 23, 2011



So you may have heard that during Terrence Malick's haunting new film The Tree of Life that some dinosaurs make an appearance.  But being a Malick film, the reveal of the dinos happens in such a simple, straightforward, and unflashy way that it's hard to imagine any other filmmaker handling the same beats in the same fashion.  Whereas most directors would go for the cheap and the obvious (clashing dinos, a chase scene, something violent, etc), Malick instead focuses his gaze on something peaceful, almost meditative.  The dinosaur scenes last roughly 3-4 minutes out of the entire movie, and occur during the cosmic and trippy "creation of the universe" sequence, which itself lasts roughly 20 minutes out of the nearly 2 hour and 20 minute run time.  The camera fixes an upward gaze on some Jurrassic-style trees, and then, there in the foreground, is a peaceful planteater, smelling the air, having a nosh, and basically just straight chilling.  It's a moment of dinosaur-zen, and it's fucking spellbinding.  In a previous scene, you're treated to a long, lingering view of a wounded Plesiasaur, which is a magnificent sight.  For anyone as blown away by water-based dinosaurs as I am, this 30-second bit will tantalize your headspace for days.  And then, there's the scene that many people are discussing in reviews, the one where one dinosaur steps on the head of another, wounded dinosaur.  The camera pans over a babbling brook, and in the foreground, there is a hurt dino, still breathing, but obviously down for the count.  Then, out from the brush, a predator-style dino appears, and it runs over to the one that's injured.  Then, suddenly, the stronger of the two places its claw-foot on the head of the suffering creature...then releases....then pushes down again...then releases...then runs away.  No death blow.  Nothing overly dramatic.  Just a moment between two prehistoric animals that might suggest something in the way of mercy or understanding.  Or maybe not.  It certainly ties into certain thematic elements that are at play during the 1950's domestic scenes with Pitt and Chastain and the children, but on its own, it's yet another instance of Malick giving the viewer something to chew on.  Whatever it means (or doesn't mean), it's one of many tiny moments in an otherwise epic film which all add up to something special.  "Thought provoking" is a phrase that seems to describe The Tree of Life the best, as, whether or not you like it, you can't deny that a massive level of thought and feeling went into the making of it.

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