Top Ten Movies of 2011 — Number One

tree best

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life practically demands to be watched repeatedly, all the while tugging at its various artistic intricacies. While the central story centered on the rough progression of childhood is as simple as can be, the movie is anything but straightforward, presenting its drama with the inscrutable logic and scattered chronology of memory itself. Malick’s film is the non-linear workings of the mind rendered into cinema that uses its elusive foundation to sweep past the normal boundaries of narrative. It’s as open to interpretation as the most ethereal poem, especially as the film moves to its dreamlike conclusion that pulls together elements from the past and present. Even though it’s the sort of film that invites scholarship and the corresponding scrutiny of frame-by-frame attention, my inclination is quite different. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that I never want to see the film again. Film may be about the individual works of art, developed onto great lengths of film (to the degree that still happens) and stitched together into statements that are simultaneously deeply personal and necessarily collaborative, but moviegoing is also about the experience of encountering that film, interacting with it in intellectual and emotional ways. No other experience I had with a 2011 release means quite as much to me as my experience with The Tree of Life. It tested me, puzzled me, thrilled me, and moved me with its bristling audacity, its refusal to adhere to preconceived notions as to what a film can do, how far it can burrow in the insularity of cloistered feelings that result from never quite moving past sorrow and regret. It left me trapped in thought and yet sharing my impressions with the urgency of a freshly converted disciple. I’d rather continue to live with the echoing reverberation of those feelings, the soft afterglow of feeling like I’d seen a piece of film art that deliberately, defiantly challenged me to understand it while always feeling genuine and heartfelt even as it refused to pander, to connect the dots that it scattered across the screen without helpfully sequenced numbers hovering nearby. It was the very best movie of the year and I can think of nothing more satisfying than never seeing it again, letting its impact live unaltered in my memory. In a way, I think surrendering to just that sort of approach to the past may be what the film is actually about.

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