Category Archives: Texas

Analog This: Five Seasons of Friday Night Lights in One Post

This year, I am grateful that Netflix exists. It took me a while (well over a year, to be not-so exact), but I finally finished this show in its entirety. I was hesitant to watch it at first, because sports have never been my biggest interest and also I’ve been putting off watching “The Wire” for way too long. But this was the summer I finally decided to finish “Friday Night Lights.” What a long yet rewarding journey it has been. “Friday Night Lights” is not just a compelling drama. It changed the way I view people who are different than myself. Most importantly, it made me realize that sports are about more than just competition; sports are about stories. A coach can do more than merely teach a sport. A coach can also be your personal hero. Especially if that coach is played by Kyle Chandler.

I thought it would be hard to write a straight-up review of the entire series. Instead, I figured I’d recap each season to the best of my ability. There will be things I forgot (sorry in advance for the lack of Buddy Jr.), but that is because “Friday Night Lights” accomplished more and introduced more characters than the average drama that goes on twice as long as this show did.

To the best of my ability, here is my recap of five seasons, through good times and bad, of “Friday Night Lights”:

Season 1

Here is where it all began, naturally, because shows usually start in the first season. Unlike many of its contemporaries, “Friday Night Lights” never really struggled to find its voice. No matter, how many face lifts it went through, this show always knew what it wanted to be: a way to humanize and find the heart inside the tough world of Texas high school football. You never needed to be a sports fan to get on board with “Friday Night Lights.” And even if you’ve never dealt with poverty or absent parents as so many of the characters do, the struggles faced on this show still feel universal.

I always loved the way that the show, especially in season one, made each issue as important as the last, despite how different they were. In one episode, Smash faces the repercussions of doping. In another episode, Julie mulls having sex for the first time. Few other shows have ever portrayed teen and family life this realistcally and earnestly. Maybe the only other American show to do it this well was also kicked off of NBC too early: “Freaks and Geeks.”

Best Episode: I Think We Should Have Sex

MVPs: Coach & Tami

Season 2

Poor “Friday Night Lights.” This show could barely find an audience to begin with, and then it’s hit by a writer’s strike that cuts its second season nearly in half. Still, the writer’s strike doesn’t explain some of the completely insane plot lines that came out of season two. And by completely insane, I mean Landry Clarke murders a man with a pipe and then he and his father set his car on fire. It was too big of an obstacle in Landry’s relationship with Tyra in a show that usually gives its characters more plausible problems to triumph over. The season also suffered from a separation of the show’s power couple. Also, Julie Taylor became almost impossible to watch, and Matt Saracen was reduced to unlikable status. Yet, despite these issues, the show still came out on top, and left with enough good will that it didn’t manage to jump.

Best Episode: Leave No One Behind

MVP: Tami Taylor

Season 3

It took “Friday Night Lights” some time to climb back to the top but when it came back, it came back strong. Some of the most inspiring, intense, and moving episodes came out of this important transitional season. It contained some characters at their lowest points, including Buddy Garrity, who gets into a brawl at a strip club after a bad business deal that costs his daughter her college tuition. That’s a lot of bad things for one person to do, but as always, “Friday Night Lights” can make you hate somebody one episode, and then love them the next.

However, there was one character introduced this season who is pretty impossible to like, and he became Dillon’s chief villain: Joe McCoy. Now, he’s not a villain simply because he looks like evil Phil Dunphy. In my eyes, he is about as despicable a TV villain as Joffrey Baratheon, despite, you know, never killing anybody. It’s not just the way he abuses his son or pushes Coach Taylor out of his job. It’s his pompous, robotic, unbudging ego that makes me despise him so much. Props to D.W. Moffett on a great performance.

Season three was about a lot of tears and goodbyes. Smash Williams goes off to college and in a “Dazed and Confused” like moment, the boys get drunk on the field, because this is Texas. Tyra works hard and has a whole lot of redemption in her quest to get into a good school. In one of the shows finest hours, Jason Street flies to New York to fight for a dream job as a sports agent as well as a new home for his child. It’s also just flat out funny watching a bunch of guys from rural Texas trying to map out Manhattan.

When season three ended, the show had an uncertain future. It looked like its time at NBC was done. That’s why the finale serves as both a season and a series finale. Eric is forced to become the head coach for the football team of the newly created East Dillon High School. Eric and Tami stand together on the dilapidated field, very cautious and unsure of what the future would hold for them. Luckily, DirecTV, for the first and only time ever, saved the day and let the world watch Dillon for two more seasons.

Best Episode: New York, New York

MVP: Landry Clarke

Season 4

Season four is truly the beginning of a new “Friday Night Lights,” and it takes some time to adjust to. It’s hard to see something you know so well completely change before your eyes. After a few episodes, I felt right at home.

The seasons begins as the unprepared East Dillon Lions are forced to forfeit their first game, a humiliation that doesn’t bode well for Coach Taylor or the rest of the team. It sets up a tumultuous season for the characters, in which much is lost and many mistakes are made. Ultimately, season four is  a true underdog story. The most triumphant victory story of the season is Vince, wonderfully played by Michael B. Jordan, who comes from nothing to become a star quarterback.

Early on, Matt Saracen loses his father. The aftermath of his father’s death is portrayed in what is perhaps the show’s best episode, which is highlighted by an amazing performance by Zach Gilford.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that “Friday Night Lights” is as much about Tami as it is about Coach, and this season was a crucial one for Dillon’s greatest lady. It was also a sad one for her, when she sees one of her good deeds come back and punish her. By the end, she finds herself going from principal of Dillon High School to a guidance counselor at East Dillon High, a smart move on the show’s creators parts to get both Taylors conveniently in one place.

My favorite part of this season, and the season that followed, was the prominence of the Riggins family, who brought warmth and much needed comic relief to the show. Even at his worst, I always knew that Tim Riggins was a good guy. Then in the season finale, he pulls off the ultimate move of self sacrifice by taking the blame for a crime that his brother committed.  Eric Taylor might be the main character of “Friday Night Lights,” but Tim Riggins is the big, beating heart. “Friday Night Lights” is mainly about what it means to be a man, and that seems to involve stepping up when the time is right and taking responsibility, even when it seems absolutely insane. Tim Riggins exemplifies what it means to be selfless.

Best Episode: The Son

MVP: Tim Riggins

Season 5

The final countdown.

For a brief moment in season five, I feared that it was going to fall into the season two trap of melodrama. What has always elevated “Friday Night Lights” above soap is its great writing that always puts the characters problems into perspective. That was lost in season two with Landry. Then in season five, Julie Taylor goes off to college and has an affair with her married TA. His wife finds out and Julie is crushed. She moves back home and stages a car crash so she won’t have to go back to school. Things get a little insane for a brief second, but I remained on board because for the first time in the show’s history, I felt some real sympathy for Julie. Being called a “slut” in front of your entire dorm certainly could not have soothed the pain of her recent breakup with Matt.

Season five was definitely an uplifting one, as the East Dillon Lions became a force to be reckoned with. However, it was also incredibly heartbreaking to watch Vince’s personal life crumble, as his father comes back into his life and interferes too much with his future. There was always a nice father-son relationship between Coach and Vince and that is almost lost this season.

It took three seasons for “Friday Night Lights” to build a brotherhood between the original Dillon Panthers. In just two very short seasons, the bond between the East Dillon Lions created is even stronger, as best seen in the episode “Kingdom.”

This was yet another important season for Tami, as she is offered the job of a lifetime as Dean of Admissions at a Philadelphia college. Does it make sense that a counselor from a Texas high school could suddenly be asked to run an entire university? Probably not, but Tami Taylor is that awesome that I got right on board. This story also led to the greatest challenge in Coach and Tami’s marriage. In the end, like Tim in the season before him, Coach makes the ultimate act of sacrifice and moves away from Dillon so Tami can take the job.

The Taylors were always two of the most important people in Dillon. Yet, they were also always the outsiders, which helped give us the audience a better understanding of this town. They weren’t born Dillonites, but they define this fictional town that feels all too real. Yet, they were even too big for this town. Dillon will be a very different place without them. But as the ending promises, Coach can bring clear eyes and full hearts to any place he goes to.

Best Episode: Kingdom/Always

MVP: Billy Riggins

Best. Casting. Ever.

Movie Review: Bernie

When we are first introduced to Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), he is making a dead body smile and look at peace. Surprisingly, being a mortician (or, in “gentler” terms, a funeral director) is no joke of a job, it is an art. What is so interesting about “Bernie” is not the art, but rather the artist.

While I hate to use such a tired phrase, “Bernie” is a story that truly is too strange to be fiction. In short, it can best be described as “Crimes and Misdemeanors” shot like a Christopher Guest movie. However, one simple sentence, and even one review, will be hard to do justice by the absolute surprise of the movie’s complexity. This is unlike any work that director Richard Linklater and actors Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey have ever done.

With “Bernie,” Linklater returns to his homeland of Texas, the state that made him famous with “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Waking Life.” However, “Bernie” has a totally different feel from any of those films. As one of the locals points out in “Bernie,” Texas is basically like a diverse country of its own. “Bernie” moves away from Austin (or as it is described in this movie, “The People’s Republic of Austin”) and into East Texas. This region lacks the flat desert lands that usually define the Lone Star State and instead is covered in the forests usually seen in Louisiana. East Texas is a little more south than west. This is not the Texas usually seen on film.

The town of Carthage, Texas largely consists of people who were born there and never left. And Bernie Tiede. Bernie, the assistant funeral director at the local funeral home, is the most beloved man in town. He is friends with everyone. If you need someone to paint your house or help you with taxes, Bernie is there. He has the best best side manner that any mortician could have. He even treats the dead with love and respect.

“Bernie” is about a mortician who becomes a murderer. It steps into the mind of a killer by removing itself almost entirely from the killer’s mind. This works well here, as a morally questionable villain is the most interesting kind of villain there is. Black gives a career-defining performance here. Playing someone who actually exists, in ways, could be easier than playing a fictional character. Black had the physical mannerisms to work off of (such as Bernie’s somewhat effeminate style of walking). The challenging part, which Black nails, is the emotional core. While Black usually plays slacker characters who start off unlikable and then become likable as the story progresses, “Bernie” is the first time he plays a character who starts off likable and by the end, it’s hard to tell whether or not he should be.

Despite his good deeds, Bernie’s motivations are constantly in question. His relationships with the older widows are a little too close for comfort, especially his possibly romantic one with cold-hearted Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). If you knew Marjorie Nugent, who will take advantage of your kindness and then chew her beans in a way that angers you, you would probably hate her, too. If you know the true story of Bernie Tiede, then you know the fate of Marjorie Nugent. But knowing the truth does not ruin the story. “Bernie” sets up her demise in a way that is actually kind of shocking, and what happens to her body afterwards is funny in a darkly comedic way. The fact that she has died is not funny, but what is funny is that Bernie still feels the need to give her a proper burial. An unconventional one, at that.

While Texas once wanted to secede from the country, “Bernie” is a very American satire, from 10 gallon hats to 10 gallon Coke cups. It explores the bedrock of traditional American values, such as the law and Jesus Christ himself, and supposes that they may be filled with lies. We have seen men who use religion to hide evil, but I have never thought this much about how the individual members of a jury could effect the outcome of a trial so much. This is coming from someone who has seen “12 Angry Men.”

Later on, the story’s real hero turns out to be District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (McConaughey). This is a big turn for a man who at first seems to be able to look for any opportunity for a PR stunt. Davidson might take his job a little too seriously, but he’s also very good at it. Linklater has a habit of getting the best possible performances out of McConaughey, and by that I mean getting him to actually act. As Davidson, McConaughey doesn’t even feel like he’s giving a performance, he just seems to be existing as Davidson. He blends in with the locals, yet he has a big city attitude that clashes with rural life of Carthage. Plus, he provides one of the film’s biggest laughs with his terrible mispronunciation of a famous play.

“Bernie” seamlessly blends fiction with reality. It is not a mockumentary, but rather half scripted, and half documentary. The residents of Carthage steal the show, despite Jack Black’s fantastic performance.   Some of the stories and words of wisdom that the Carthaginians (is that a thing?) share are the kind of things that seem to only be able to come from memory, and not a screenplay. Sure, the movie has fun at the expense of the obese folks on jury duty, but the minds behind the film seemed to have done enough research and close observation of the region that they have to be hitting it on the head. Or at least, that is what a man at the theater who grew up in East Texas told me.

Having the semi-documentary format is perhaps the only way to tell the story of Bernie Tiede. There are never any real private moments of Bernie in contemplation. Therefore, some of his deeper emotions are never reveled, and his intentions are left up to interpretation. A movie that explores if someone could possibly have two personalities, and if someone could commit cold-blooded murder and still be loved, is one that is deep and though-provoking. A movie like that doesn’t leave the viewer’s mind once the film ends. The fact that “Bernie” explores these themes in a way that is both funny and endearing is a mini-revelation.

“Bernie” has yet to receive a wide release. That may be because “The Avengers” is all anyone is going to see, but I believe this movie has about the same amount of mass appeal. And the fact that many believe this movie is not entirely accurate just adds further to the intrigue of it.

Everybody Loves Bernie

Movie Review: The Last Picture Show

“You ain’t ever gonna amount to nothing.”

The first and last shots of “The Last Picture Show” are nearly identical. However, one is in reverse of the other. The movie marquee, once presenting the next showing, is now empty. After the last picture show has ended, there is not much left to do.

“The Last Picture Show” is such a vivid and knowledgeable portrayal of life in a small Texan town, that it would seem only to come from memory. Yet, director Peter Bogdanovich grew up in Kingston, New York, a place bearing no resemblance to rural Texas. He’s just that good of a filmmaker.

“The Last Picture Show” takes place in the fictional town of Anarene where football is king. This was long before “Friday Night Lights” ever came to be. Except here, none of the action takes place on the field, so glory is even harder to find.

From start to finish, “The Last Picture Show” is powered by the country tunes playing on everyone’s radios, primarily those of Hank Williams. In Anarene, which becomes a character itself, the greatest means of escape are the pool hall and the movie theater, especially that movie theater.

“The Last Picture Show” is a coming of age story in which the teenagers mature in a world that is not vibrant or cultured but instead rather bleak. Think the opposite of “American Graffiti.” As the film progresses, the culture diminishes more and more.

Instead of beginning with dialogue, “The Last Picture Show” starts off with the voices of disc jockeys and the music on the radio, perhaps the guiding voice of that generation. “The Last Picture Show” primarily follows the town’s star football players Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). Sonny is kind and sensitive and in a relationship with a girl he does not love (Sharon Taggart). Their relationship will not last long. Duane, meanwhile, is confident, handsome and popular. He is first introduced while dating the beautiful Jacy Farrow (Cybil Shepard), Anarene’s equivalent of a movie star; a goddess wearing a scarf. In this drab setting, she is a human oasis.

Everything is in order until trouble comes during Christmas. After a holiday party, Sonny befriends and later has an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), his football coach’s wife. Ruth is miserable and despises her husband, but says she married him as a way of angering her parents. At a time when Hollywood favored youth rebellion against those who raised them, “The Last Picture Show” actually ends up being about a sacred respect for one’s elders. After all, everyone feels a need to rebel at one point or another.

That is what makes this film such a unique coming of age story: it is as much about the adults coming of age as it is about the kids. Coming of age, after all, is the act of discovering how one is supposed to act at a given time in their life. This act can occur more than once during one’s life.

The boys all end up vying for the affection of Jacy. This will eventually lead to each of their downfalls in one form or another. “The Last Picture Show” is less a story as a whole as it is a mosaic of little stories that fall together into a vivid, haunting, yet beautiful, whole. A road trip to Mexico that happens entirely offscreen and a pool hall given to Sonny in an inheritance are just two of the many threads tied together to make a whole. These events don’t need to be seen to have an impact. Watching “The Last Picture Show” brought to mind “On the Waterfront” and the disenfranchised teen rebels of “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Like these movies, “The Last Picture Show” also has a strong emphasis on the little moments that are often ignored in everyday life, yet can’t be ignored in front of a camera. Moments like the one in which Ruth struggles to get her shirt over her head felt improvised, like the moment in “On the Waterfront” when Terry (Marlon Brando) fiddles with Edie’s (Eva Marie Saint) glove. There is something funny and tender about moments like these that make the characters feel vulnerable and achingly real.

In a way, “The Last Picture Show” is not about the loss of innocence leading into the Korean War, but rather about how that innocence was never there to begin with. In Anarene, there is no difference between public and private lives. Jacy and Sonny’s impulse marriage begins partly because Jacy is bored, and partly because she wants to be the talk of the town.

“The Last Picture Show” contains some outstanding work from multiple actors who would continue to make a great impact on cinema. Bridges creates slick, confident characters who you always want to follow, no matter how egotistical or lazy they may be (the lazy part refers to a different movie, of course). So many sides of each character are seen and at one point or another, everyone of them seems either emotional or emotionless. For example, the film’s most indelible scene comes during skinny-dipping at rich boy Bobby’s (Gary Brockette) house. As Jacy gets up in front of everyone to undress, her insecurity is seen in the way she clumsily undresses, and at that moment she becomes more than a spoiled, shallow beauty queen. It might have helped that this was actually Shepard’s first nude scene. No one ever feels like they are acting: they seem to feel so free and comfortable in the skin of their characters that they are simply just existing in their roles. That also comes from the screenplay written by Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry (who wrote the book that this film is based off of), which is so deeply invested in the local dialect. “The Last Picture Show” comes closer to achieving naturalism as most films ever will.

Despite the lack of culture in Anarene, the bits and pieces of cinema and music throughout aid in telling this story. Think about the clip of “Red River” shown in the theater. Bogdanovich chose it for a reason. Hank Williams’s “Why Don’t You Love Me” is a perfect sendoff song and it provides a melancholy epilogue about how hard it becomes to enjoy what we used to enjoy as we age. Not that the haunting last images needed to be explained, but the song certainly provides the right backdrop.

It would probably be hard to see something like “The Last Picture Show” get made nowadays. Bogdanovich has no shame ending without something uplifting to cling onto. However, that is what helps make the story feel so much more real, as it acknowledges that life doesn’t always end with a big, bright ribbon tied to it. Even the healing and uniting power of movies, which the boys depend on, can’t be relied on anymore, as the theater closes its doors. “The Last Picture Show” will remind you that sometimes closure is not the most rewarding way to end a movie.

Here’s an Idea Hollywood: A modern day update of “The Last Picture Show” about the closing of a small town video store. Boom. I expect to be paid now.

Movie Review: Days of Heaven

Watching a Terrence Malick film is like taking a stroll through nature. Or in the case of “Days of Heaven,” harvesting it, burning it, and possibly getting killed by it.

“Days of Heaven,” Malick’s second feature, is yet another example of how he brings the natural world to life through film. “Days of Heaven” achieves this on an even grander scale than his previous feature, “Badlands.”
Like his other films, “Days of Heaven” moves at a slow and steady pace, with many often baffling moments. “Days of Heaven” begins in a place that can be described as the opposite of heaven, a steel-mill in early 20th century Chicago. The factory looks more like a third world country than the American Dream. After Bill (Richard Gere), a hard-working but hot-tempered worker at the mill accidentally kills his cruel boss, he flees the city with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and his sister for the promise of a better life in the wheat fields of Texas.
No matter how beautiful the sky looks in Texas at sunset, life in the country proves to be difficult, as the wealthy, unnamed farm owner (Sam Shepard) treats his workers like slaves. Bill convinces Abby to marry their boss in order to get a claim to his fortune. Like any get-rich-quick scheme, it ends with more blood and tears than dollars and cents.
“Days of Heaven” is one cinematic story where the story barely matters as you watch it. On a first viewing, the story moves quickly and is hard to follow. That’s partly Malick’s way of telling a story and also because the story is told through the voiceover of a young girl, therefore giving the perspective of a confused child during some very dark events.
While watching “Days of Heaven,” I was convinced that I wasn’t watching a linear story, but instead a detailed tour of the Texas Panhandle. Nestor Almendros received what was probably the most deserving Best Cinematography Oscar ever for his work on this film. The film is shot mostly during the time of day that he describes as the “magic hour,” which is the period of time between sunset and nightfall. During this time, the sky is an almost magical shade of light red. Maybe it shows the false, magical hopefulness of the prosperity of living off of the land. It is also a heavenly presence in the film, something Malick brings into everything he makes.
Under Almendros’s photographic skills, the monotonous colors of the prairie look so vividly alive. As the stalks of wheat sway in the wind, almost in unison, it looks almost as if the fields are instead an ocean. In this film, the landscape is not the background, but rather the life that breaths through it. Some shots seem almost too good to be true. For example, how was a flower growing able to be shot in time lapse, without today’s digital technology? That question will just have to remain a part of the magical mysteries of cinema.
It is intentional, unsurprising, and ironic that the most humane living creatures in “Days of Heaven” are the natural elements of earth and the non-human creatures that inhabit it. The ducks, horses, bison, and many other animals that wander the ranch seem more in touch with the world than the humans there.
As for the people, they are all animalistic and motivated by greed. Bill, who is supposed to be the film’s hero, has none of the qualities of the typical hero. A hero is motivated by a desire to do good and protect those other than themselves. Bill, on the other hand, is just looking out for his own well being. Even the woman he loves is just a tool to make him more powerful.
Like most of the other men Malick portrays in his films, Bill has an underlying aggressive nature, one that usually leads to violence. Unlike Kit Kruthers from “Badlands,” this violent instinct is not a sadistic one but rather one of self-defense. Bill has more in common with the ill-tempered father from “The Tree of Life.”
Malick is purposely a very secretive director. He doesn’t want his personality getting in the way of the messages of his films. If a film is an auteur’s way of expressing himself, Malick does that through “Days of Heaven.” Malick studied philosophy at Harvard, and the actions of the characters in “Days of Heaven” probably don’t represent his moral compass but more a Hobbes like view on man: humans are violent by nature and only act in their best interest.

Of all of the films ever made about the American struggle for prosperity, this is one of the finest. “Days of Heaven” is about both our dependence on the land, and our subsequent betrayal of it. That’s why when the locusts come and black out the sky, it feels partly like nature’s revenge but more like Manifest Destiny biting back.
The downfall of most films is that their characters talk too much and have nothing good to say. Unless you’re as good of a writer as Quentin Tarantino or Woody Allen, embracing silence is a key to success. In “Days of Heaven,” Malick lets the images, along with the sweeping score by Ennio Morricone, do all of the talking. This is what makes “Days of Heaven” more than just a typical Hollywood epic. When you’re trying to tell the story of a country and its inhabitants, sometimes the best way to do so is to just observe. That way you see its beauty, and its horror, exactly as it was intended to be seen.
If You Liked This Movie, You’ll Also Like: Badlands, The Tree of Life, Barry Lyndon, There Will Be Blood, 2001: A Space Odyssey, No Country for Old Men, Once Upon a Time in the West

Movie Review: The Tree of Life

Unless you love, your life will flash by.

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is the most highly ambitious film to come out of this year, many past years, and many years in the future. It comes from what must have been years of obsessive thought about both life and film. Only someone this in love with the craft, and with nature, could make this film, and somehow make it masterful.

“The Tree of Life” begins in a small Texas town in the 1950s, in what must be loosely based off of Malick’s own upbringing. Brad Pitt plays the tough patriarch of a family of three boys. Pitt, who is never given a first name, continually fights his wife (Jessica Chastain) over the best way to raise their family.

Throughout the film, they explore loss of innocence and the possible meaning of life. Usually, trying to find the meaning of life is a cheap storytelling technique. But if you’re as good of a filmmaker as Malick is, the answer doesn’t come in one sentence. The film takes us from Texas to the cosmos to the creation of the life, and back again. Somewhere in between, an older version of one of the sons (Sean Penn), comes back to explore it all. The sum of “The Tree of Life” is nearly impossible to explain. After one viewing, any interpretation could be right.

Malick’s latest is a reminder of his films from the past: it takes its precious time, and it is very quiet. “The Tree of Life” is reminiscent of a brief time when films told entire stories through images. Malick’s story, which covers basically the entirety of existence in just two and a half hours, manages to be the cinematic sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Like “2001,” “The Tree of Life” is nothing short of a cinematic opera.

Malick, while echoing Kubrick, also does something that few filmmakers have done this well: capture the flawed beauty of nature. Light shining on a bed, tall grass being ruffled by human hands, and flies buzzing around a lake at dusk have never looked this stunning. He captures both the sights and sounds of the natural world to a perfectionist degree. This is naturalistic filmmaking at its finest. Through a camera lens, he encapsulates Thoreauvian philosophy.

As a critic, it is important to try and avoid overanalyzing. However, for a film like “The Tree of Life,” overanalyzing is crucial. Through his film, Malick is trying to find more than just the meaning of life, because life doesn’t have just one meaning. “The Tree of Life” is about what is out there, and what brings us all together.

Some might call Malick’s film a religious one. While religion seems to be a big factor, I would say that the film straddles the line between spirituality and atheism. It asks these essential questions: when it comes to dealing with the biggest questions in life, who (or what) do we turn to? Do we look to nature, the possibility of God, or our friends and family? No choice we make is a decent or right one, unless it is done out of some form of love.

“The Tree of Life” is not a film that offers easy answers. Within a half hour, many people in the audience had walked out, something I haven’t witnessed since “A Serious Man.” After “The Tree of Life” ended, one woman remarked that the film was reminiscent of a bunch of Windows screen savers. A friend of mine compared it to the greatest “South Park” episode ever.

While both of these interpretations are funny, they do not do Malick’s film justice. The cinematography is the result of years of careful work, not stealing. Meanwhile, overanalyzing is the act of finding meaning in the meaningless. Malick surely had some deeper purpose in trying to discover how life exists and thrives.

“The Tree of Life” is hard to be in love with the first time around, but I feel a need to recommend it. I can’t get over the brilliant way in which Malick speeds up, and then slows down, the story at just the right moments. Many films made nowadays try to think up and balance big ideas, but few are ever this meditative.