Watched tree of life tonight for the 2nd or3rd time in the last six months. If you haven't seen it, I wouldn't read on, not because of spoilers, but because I think its usually a negative, rather than a positive, to go into a film already with a slant.
Also, try as you can to watch it in the highest quality. Its a very beautiful film and I think that's partially important to the understanding of it.
Its a film that you come away each time with a new impression, however, I personally find this film to be the most like visual poetry than any other I have seen, and this is certainly my lasting impression. The shots and scenes are delicately strung together, succinct, full of ideas. I think the camera style too aligns it with poetry - its an always wondering eye, looking after something or towards something, trying to understand. It bows down to children's height so's we can understand the world from there perspective.
Most individual shots in this film are of the quality of a photography exhibition, the themes and motives too remind me allot of contemporary photography's themes and motives (despair, teenage angst, family closeness or distance, isolation). Seeing the shots in this manner reminded me of something learnt playing guitar. Each shot is like a seperate chord. Played by itself, (let's stick to just the seven major chords for this analogy), it offers something, some beauty, but is an isolated voice. When you put another chord behind it tho - thats when we begin to feel some emotional incling - I think - not because of the notes themselves, but because of the correlation (or reaction) between them. The shots in this film (beautiful, like isolated photographs), strung together have this same emotional effect - (much like animation too) its not what happens in the shots or the frames, its what happens between them.
Watching it this time, I really linked it to V Woolf. It reminded me very much of her autobiographical text "a sketch of the past" (from Moments of Being). It is here that she describes her idea of 'moments of being', those moments in life where we truly be, and experience burns into us, scolding us and sculpting us. These moments can be few and far between, but they are the times we shape ourselves by. Where we learn to cope with new experience, + where we realise ourselves.
The film feels very much like a series of these. Rather than the viewer, assertively searching for any overarching plot, I think the audience is to pay-witness to these series of moments, of relationships building & turning, and emotions thickening & stirring.
It also too has imprints of To The Lighthouse. Especially the sense of experiencing the scene through various subjective points of view (the child, the mother, the father). And what's beautiful, like TTL, these subjective points combine, and together, paint us an objective view of the family.
Also, to mention the scenes of time passing, all the way back in time. These I feel are so important to the film, you are shown time as being so long, the universe so vast(and all as one), and life so short but on such a long and beautiful chain (each ancestor a link). This; then, we are cast again to the family - zoomed right in on a link in the chain - and we feel all that strife and emotion, and all that life, kicking to and through that is so minute but yet such an explosion.
Overall I think its a very beautiful film that I will return to each year of my life. I wouldnt dare claim to so assertively hold an opinion of what this film is about, or what it says, but I hope to look at it, every now and then, and notice what I didn't see before. Its certainly one of those.
One final tie I found this had with V Woolf; I remember seeing on a book TV show sometime last year, a lady speaking of Virginia, and her skill - to alleviate the vocabulary of the reader, not to merely summarise with the hot and cold taps - (that was good, that was bad) or to paint in black and white; but instead, she gives you all the colours, so you can get to the root of something, and try and put words to what our minds instantly habe already described so fortuitously
This film too shows us all the colours - especially in a world so overloaded with forgetful-Holywood films. However, ask me of what I thought of the film in a few weeks or a few months, when the inflated pantheon of the mere mortals has shriveled and wimpered, and I'll only, boldly be able to claim 'its good'. Unfortunately those colours go grey and the taps dry up.