Feature

Does The Tree of Life deserve the Cannes Palme d'Or?

Terrence Malick's high-concept film, which stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, got a very mixed reaction at the French film festival, but still managed to nab the top prize

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last week, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life — a film that's been called a "138-minute meditation on the meaning of life," and features Brad Pitt as a disciplinarian dad and Sean Penn as his adult son reflecting back on his upbringing — was met with both vocal boos and a smattering of applause. And yet, on Sunday, the film nabbed the festival's highest prize, the prestigious Palme d'Or, in what was called a "shocker." Is it really deserving?

No, this film is a pretentious mess: "Malick's movie-making here is all forced spontaneity and failed inspiration," says Michael Sragow in The Baltimore Sun. The film's "structure is ludicrously busy and confusing," cutting from the 1960s to the present day, and then to lengthy cosmic scenes of dinosaurs and meteors. Malick's directing is rife with adolescent pretensions, from his obvious choices in classical music to "voice-over dialogue that belongs in a beatnik cafe." This film definitely doesn't deserve all the accolades it's getting."Tree of Life wins Palme d'Or: A fig leaf for an emperor with no clothes?"

This movie is a masterpiece, really: The Tree of Life is an "extraordinary" vision — a "magnum opus," says Justin Chang in Variety. It's a film that challenges viewers, but those who are up to the task will be rewarded with "a transfixing odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination on the Earth's origins.""The Tree of Life"

It's deeply flawed... but beautiful, too: The Tree of Life doesn't quite come together, but "I recommend it unreservedly," says David Edelstein in New York. It's both "ridiculously sublime" and "sublimely ridiculous." Sure, some of the main characters are underwritten, the narrative is unclear, and there are shots of undersea blobs that recall Jar Jar Binks. But it's also "riveting," and the images are strangely arresting and beautiful. It "should be seen immediately.""2011: A director's odyssey"

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