A Connecticut theater recently posted this notice:
Oh man. On the one hand, they refuse the walkers-out refunds. That’s good! On the other, they have to type something like this up in the first place. That’s bad! This all but rolls out a ready-made platform for screeds about the Decline of American Cultural Intelligence, but the years have left me less in the mood than ever to launch into those — and they’ve left me less convinced that such a decline, within these borders, would even matter. halogencycle articulated what I found irksome nevertheless:
Even if I didn't love The Tree of Life, it would never occur to me to ask for a refund because I just didn't like a film. If the projection was screwed up or the sound was wrong, sure, I'm happy to demand money back. But I don't understand the thinking that goes "You should have used psychic powers to predict my aesthetic tastes and programmed only films I would like." What kind of sense of entitlement leads people to think like that?
I don’t mind that they dislike the film, though I can’t imagine how they reach their verdict before the final frame; I’ve never managed that. I do sort of mind that they felt entitled to a film conforming to their specific set of likes and dislikes. As a smart fellow on Twitter recently twote, “I don’t want food made with ‘love.’ I want the work of chefs who hate my palate and its prejudices.” My culinary experience differs very little from my cinematic experience, or my experience of any sort of cultural expression: I want smells, tastes, textures, and combinations thereof that I don’t expect. Maybe I feel similarly entitled, but to that — I certainly feel disappointed when I don’t get it.
In other news, I deem The Tree of Life the American film of the decade. Admittedly, this sounds a tad premature, but still. American cinema hasn’t had a strong run lately, and, absent some sort of renaissance, I don’t foresee any picture as interesting sprouting from my home soil before 2020. (And, yes, this judgment includes the films I’ll make, but hey, I’ve got low self-esteem.) The press has flocked to cover the movie, and with excellent cause, but now I wonder what I can say that others haven’t. I refer you to Anthony Lane, A.O. Scott, and Roger Ebert.
Terrence Malick still lacks a truly robust sense of humor, but I found select laughs in The Tree of Life. (Not that these moments provoked much laughter around me.) And, yes, some of those CGI dinosaurs won’t look good ten years from now, but the non-CGI visual effects will remain impressive. And though everyone talks about the images, I actually found the sound taking a more central place. Often, the narrative moves through back and forth in time and space first through what you hear, and only then through what you see, with dialogue that gradually slips away or only slowly fades into the mix. I need a more precise word “dialogue”; a lot of what people say in the film, you’re not meant to hear clearly. That quality alone feels like the tip of the structural-fascination iceberg.
So I probably should’ve seen it at the Arclight like halogencycle did. Instead, I foolishly caught a screening here in Santa Barbara. Look; I like the Plaza de Oro well enough. It boasts at least a C+ selection of worthwhile films, which is more can say for most of the other theaters here. But, sonically, the PdO does not bring it. Even so, I suspect I heard what Malick needed me to hear. From the mouth of Brad Pitt’s frustrated fifties suburban patriarch, a would-be classical musician ultimately shackled to the whims of a local factory of no discernible specialty, comes the saddest sentence in the English language: “I let myself get sidetracked.”
(The saddest, that is, besides “I already know what I like.”)