There's much one can say about a movie's beautiful , lush photography when it works with a structure--a good script, a graspable plot and ideas an audience can take interest in, credible, complex characters--but pretty pictures by themselves cannot save a film like Terrence Mallick's "Tree of Life" from coming across as a bloated, pretentious attempt to evoke a sense of human existence and beyond what the director seemingly considers the petty concerns of individual characters.
It is a mess, with a whispering, hushed narration that cannot seem to rise above a mumbling buzz, and sequencing of story lines between a family tragedy set in a 1950's American suburb, the pensive rumination of a soul sick business man in current day Dallas, and images of dinosaurs hunkering, squirming, swimming, wandering through their various versions of flora and fauna in search of food and , we could assume, significance beyond their appetites and survival instincts.
This would all be interesting in the right proportions, but this film is not the tone poem Mallick wanted it to be; it is is not mesmerizing, poetic or suggestive of the sort of secret-of-life conceit the film hints at. What is infuriating , beyond the rhythm-less, shambling length of the film ( two hours and 44 minutes) is that for all the wonderful images Mallick and his crew manage to bring us, very little of it is effectively mounted or framed; we are not allowed to become engaged with any seen nor permitted any sense of continuity . It seems to have been edited with a lawn mower on a foggy day.he constant riff of showing us various trees, in various stages, topographically believable for conceptually baffling, with light coming through the branches was irritating, as was the constant visual cues of running water from rivers, lakes, streams and shorelines. These are meant to function as a leitmotif, no doubt, but repetition does not equal effective emphasis. This results in symbolism without an actual "thing", an idea, under the metaphorical disguise. It does seduce into thinking about one thing only to discover that something else was being arrived at just under our perceptual radar.
There is, I'm sure, a metaphysical aspect that I've missed through this ,but closer to the truth, I think, is that I merely noticed what's missing from the film. I don't know quite what those elements were as to what was intended, but it seems clear enough that no one thought to bring them to this project.