On Monday morning, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was seen for the first time in public, at its monumentally anticipated premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. At long last, after years of delays and steadily building hype, Life was seen by its first public audience.
The screening took place early in the morning at 8:30am Cannes time (reportedly there were long queues even at 7am, including fights, pushing, and near-riots), or 11:30pm PST, so of course I stayed up to monitor the feedback on Twitter. Predictably, the initial buzz is all over the map, with some heralding it as a masterpiece and others scratching their heads. Reportedly the screening was met with both sustained cheers and a few isolated boos (not atypical for Cannes). In any case, Malick's film is certainly the talk of the festival.
Here's a selection of some of the first comments on the film (updated):
Roger Ebert: "Terrence Malick's new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence... It functions to pull us back from the distractions of the moment, and focus us on mystery and gratitude." (full review)
Manohla Dargis (New York Times): "[It] serves as a reminder of how few contemporary filmmakers engage questions of life and death, God and soul, and risk such questioning without the crutch of an obvious story. It isn’t that these life questions aren’t asked in our movies; they are, if sometimes obliquely. Rather it’s the directness of Mr. Malick’s engagement with them that feels so surprising at this moment, and that goes against the mainstream filmmaking grain."
Peter Howell of the Toronto Star: "Words inevitably fail any description of Malick's masterpiece, but try wonder, dread, hope."
Sasha Stone (The Wrap): "Is there anything ever put to film as mysteriously beautiful as 'The Tree of Life?' I don’t think so." (full review)
Justin Chang (Variety): "Something extraordinary... a transfixing odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination on the Earth's origins." (full review)
Andrew O'Hehir (Salon): "A massively ambitious work of allegorical and almost experimental cinema that seeks to recapture the lived experience of a 1950s family, after the fashion of a Texas Proust, and connect it to the life of the universe, the nature and/or existence of God, the evolution of life on earth and even the microscopic chemistry and biology of life... The Tree of Life may appeal to more adventurous Christian viewers." (full review)
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter): "A singular work... An exceptional and major film." (Full review)
Michael Glitz (Huffington Post): "It's brilliant. Let's get that out of the way. If you like director Terrence Malick, rest assured his new film fits in snugly alongside Badlands, Days Of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World. It features extensive voice-overs musing on the nature of life, stunning images that convey a wealth of emotion and a surprisingly detailed storyline conveyed almost entirely without conventional narrative." (full review)
Matt Zoller Seitz: "Indescribable and magnificent. Conventional critical strategies are inadequate to grapple with it. Joycean and Proustian with dollops of Ray Bradbury. Tons to savor no matter who you are, but it will hit Texans especially hard."
Total Film: "Utterly mesmerising first hour, slightly listless second, generally unmissable."
Eugene Hernandez (Film Society of Lincoln Center): "A movie I'd love to sit down & watch again right now. It's beautiful, dense. Love the music so much."
Xan Brooks, The Guardian: "Book of Revelations by way of Main St. Almost ridiculous, always sublime"
Peter Bradshaw, The Guadian: "A cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love. visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale.” (full review)
Erik Kohn (indieWire): "The greatest expression of heady Malickian concepts, which usually involve humanity adrift in the chaos of the universe and the meaning of everything (or lack thereof). In this situation, he removes excess story and assembles a sweeping visual poem. " (full review)
Geoff Andrew (British Film Institute): "Malick's back with a lavish, disappointing, but bizarrely beautiful prayer of a film. He's got God!"
Sunday Times Culture: "Tree Of Life is a tsunami of spiritual imagery and tasteful/euphoric sound design encasing a slim "daddy's mean to me" storyline."