Terrence Malick’s upcoming film The Tree of Life is probably getting more buzz than any other spring/summer release this year, and a new clip posted on Entertainment Weekly’s website has only added to the hype. Unfortunately the video above is the only the trailer (itself a beautiful short film of sorts); you have to navigate here to see the new clip.
The reason what many are calling the summer’s most anticipated film is getting so much attention is simple: Malick rarely makes films (this will be his fifth; his first was Badlands in 1973), and each time he does it’s a huge cultural event. Not only that, but the details around The Tree of Life’s story are shrouded in mystery, and no one has really said what it’s about other than in vague terms.
Because of the scarcity of information on Malick’s new film and the lack of any other previews besides the trailer, much is being made of this brief clip. What does it tell us?
The clip shows three brothers (one of them presumably the child version of Sean Penn’s character) teasing their mother with a lizard. Noting the backdrop, one recalls the setting of Malick’s Badlands, 1950s South Dakota. One is struck by the mobility of the camera and the way it freely follows the characters around, a stylistic flourish uncharacteristic of Malick, especially in interiors. The editing of the sequence is also unlike Malick, and it’s jump cuts (when there are perceived gaps in space/time between shots that create the feeling of something being skipped or jumped over) perhaps suggest a new stylistic development.
These differences aside, it’s clearly Malick. The legendary director’s films often have long sequences in which time is compressed; real time moments are rare and only serve to punctuate montages. Such is the case with the first few moments here; after a few lines of dialogue, the sequence plays out as a montage accompanied by music, and we only occasionally hear diegetic sounds (sounds from the story world).
Only having seen about a minute of it, The Tree of Life seems like part of a logical progression of Malick’s style, which after his debut with Badlands has become increasingly more oblique and elliptical. On May 27, the day The Tree of Life premieres, we’ll know for sure.