What to Drink While Watching “The Tree of Life”

One of the most frustrating films I’ve seen recently is The Tree of Life, (Terrence Malick, 2011). I felt frustrated because it was simultaneously dazzling-and-original and weary-and-hackneyed. If it had been just d-and-o, I would have loved it to death and if it had been just w-and-h I could dismiss it as just another crappy movie, thus feeling less frustrated.


Brad Pitt’s character is the hard-working, frustrated-dreamer-type of American father who treats his three sons just as the Hollywood manual says 1950’s fathers should treat their sons: teach them to box, be strict and God-fearing and make them afraid of him so that they swing towards their mother (in this case lacklusteredly played by Jessica Chastain) and become emos or gays or serial killers or Nobel prize winners. Brad has a hard time expressing his feelings through words, so he plays the organ, which leads us to the other annoying cliché – the choice of music that Malick fills his film with.


It’s annoying because we’ve heard it all before. And usually in tear-jerking films, or TV advertisements, which makes it worse. Per se, I have nothing against these well-known snippets of Mahler, Holst, Brahms, etc. (might draw the line at John Tavener’s pseudo-funereality, mind you), but I would have expected him to search a bit further and maybe stumble across something like the work of Julia Holter.


The photography was striking and mostly beautiful. It’s no novelty to have the jerky hand-held thing nowadays, but Malick makes it look original by unusual angles, unexpected use of zooms and, obviously, the massive mash-up cosmo thing – space, dinosaurs, wowy special effects and gigantic trees lovingly blended with close-ups of kissable twitching babies’ feet, Brad’s cool glasses, Jessica’s watery smile.


One of the boys looks like Barcelona defender Dani Alves. (This was very disturbing for me.) 50 years later, we see him grown up in the form of Sean Penn, who hopelessly scours the steel and glass of the modern city in search of the God who he had no time for in his childhood as he played with his brothers.


The themes of hope and desperation are universal and the director wants us to appreciate just how universal the universe really is. It’s a wildly ambitious film, with long shots of the Milky Way and swirling nature scenes, and numbingly domestic at the same time – one boring family who rarely have conversations. The most interesting thing that happens is the death of one of the boys, but we get to find out very little about it – the director concentrates on more on the ensuant grief, and how that meshes with the sense of wonder of creation that the boys’ mother tries to infuse them with while they’re not being shouted at by their dad.

I don’t know if this film is minimalist, as some people have said. Its meticulous attention to detail and the fact that there are long periods where nothing at all happens might suggest so, but Bach and the dinosaurs lean in the opposite direction. Epics can’t be minimalist.


Another adjective often used to describe this film is “pretentious”. I would say, “Definitely not”. I reckon it’s almost embarrassingly honest and sincere. Malick has really gone for broke here, spewing his heart out. There is not one moment of mauvois foi here, whatever your aesthetic opinion of it may be.


So what beverage would go with this film? What drink can encompass the whole of God’s creation and run the gamut of human emotion? The final scene has a whole crowd of people wandering around on what looks like a huge frozen lake, spaced out, “at peace with themselves” or a little bit stoned, and yet they look round in happy curiosity. This self-same effect can be achieved with the judicious ingestion of gin and tonic and I’d like to say a few words about that, if I may.


Of course you may, it’s your blog, dammit.


Why, thank you, old fruit.


Not of a bit of it.


Well, as I was saying, gin and tonic. I am amazed at how easily impressed my fellow Spaniards are in matters regarding fashion. It has become fashionable, would you believe, to drink gin and tonic. That is “la moda”. Imagine. Like people have never drunk gin with tonic before. Now it is the summum of cool. But, whoah… you can’t just order any old gin and any old tonic. A suspiciously impressive publicity campaign has catapulted Hendricks gin into the position of being the “right” brand of gin to order. Hendricks has been around for years, for crying out loud. It’s perfectly all right, but it’s no better than your average gin, and it’s certainly no better than it was, say, 5 years ago, or 25 years ago. Spain has some very sound gins and I’ll just mention two here: Xoriguer and Larios.


The first is a work of art, with a dazzling-and-original bouquet of chamomile which isn’t to everyone’s taste and I tend to think it clashes with tonic, whatever the brand (and you can climb back into your fever tree, you naughty Mad Men monkeys or should that be Mad Monkey Men).


My defence of Larios gin is not a case of snobberie invertée, it’s simply a case of a good, straightforward, clean, pure product that, for those very reasons, lends itself to The Tree of Life.


Pretentious people (i.e. people who drink Hendricks gin with Fever Tree tonic, in a balloon glass) will watch The Tree of Life and secretly think, “Oh my God that was awful and I didn’t understand anything!” and will say, “Oh my God that was sublime!”


People that ZaragozaTwins like will drink the gin and tonic of the brands of their choosing, in a tall glass, and watch The Tree of Life and say, “Thank you” and think, “Thank you” at the same time.


Because we’re nice people here at Ztw.


One response to this post.

  1. […] a couple of years ago, Terrence Malick wowed the world with The Tree of Life, reviewed lovingly here. It turns out that this Tree is but one leg on a two-legged stool, the other being his latest […]


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