In discussing The Tree of Life with people who were planning on seeing it, the perceived necessity of seeing the film alone has frequently come up. Although I normally love discussing movies with The Girlfriend, for instance, I was glad to be able to see it myself so as to aid digestion. I also talked to a friend who was firmly planning to see it without his wife, and I advised another friend to see it without his girlfriend.
Do you notice the pattern here? All of us are men! And all the people we want to see it without are women! Which brings me to an incredibly obvious fact about The Tree of Life that I have not seen discussed as of yet: it is an overwhelmingly and even embarrassingly masculine movie.
Everyone who wants to see it knows the basic premise and therefore knows that it shows masculinity at its most vulnerable. Even though women are culturally conditioned to be adept at identifying with masculine narratives in general, I think it’s safe to say that The Tree of Life is too intense, too precise in hitting at the shame that is so integral to the formation of a masculine identity — there’s always the chance that they’ll be skeptical, or critical, or even just reflective in a way that will be jarring for the male viewer who just had his heart ripped out by being forced to watch and admit to himself that it really was like that, on an emotional level if not in all particulars.
I have long been of the opinion that one of the contributions men can make to feminism is to provide an internal critique of masculinity, and I think there’s a case to be made that Stanley Kubrik — Malick’s primary point of reference here — succeeds in that. I wonder if Malick does, though, either here or in The Thin Red Line. (I still haven’t seen his other films, and Netflix isn’t cooperating in that regard — apparently I’m not the only one wanting to catch up on Malick’s back catalogue.)
This is something I’m still mulling over, so I’m hoping someone will get things rolling in comments, or at least ask a good clarifying question…