Saturday, June 25, 2011

'Tree of Life' Befuddles Some

As the film opens in wider and wider release, and reaches audiences in more remote parts of the country, it has apparently provoked some bizarre reactions. It recently debuted at Avon Theater in Stamford Connecticut and received what must have been some substantial number of patrons who sought a refund because the film was 'boring', 'unfocused' and 'time-dragging'. This wouldn't be so surprising if it occurred at a large multiplex, but at a small, indie-oriented, arthouse theater -- whose patrons should be used to unconventional, challenging films -- it is strange.

The theater denied requests for refunds, standing by the quality of the film, and posted this letter outside the cinema in response:

I would deride the intelligence of this particular town, but the movie isn't a puzzle film. It's a film that is primarily to be experienced and enjoyed, rather than 'figured out'. It doesn't take a great intellect to engage the film seriously or to be moved by it. But if your palette for film is trained on simplistic, crowd-pleasing, commercial cinema -- as I suspect must be the case for those seeking refunds -- then the response isn't surprising. Which is not to say that any and all sophisticated film aficionados will certainly, inexorably enjoy the film, but it is fairly safe to say that none of them would seek a refund since they would be able to appreciate the ambition and the craft of the film, even if it didn't necessarily work for them.

The other possibility is that the viewers are fairly sophisticated, arthouse patrons, but they took offense at the religious content. Though, given the nature of the responses as described, I don't think this is the case. It's much more likely that they were unsophisticated viewers who were attracted by the big names.

The film doesn't open everywhere until July 8th and once it does I suspect that some large percentage of mainstream audiences will respond similarly, since their appreciation apparatus for high-art in general is so poorly calibrated and their tastes are so coarse and vulgar. We shall see.


  1. Thanks for keeping up with news on The Tree of Life. I loved the film, and reading articles/opinions about it after release is interesting to read.

  2. No problem. It's been a while since I've been this passionate about anything, so I definitely am trying to encourage people to see it and think about and start a dialogue.