After intense media speculation, I am pleased to confirm that I have indeed won Movieline’s 10-Word Tree of Life Review contest.

Later this week I will humbly accept my prize of a Tree of Life blu-ray combo pack at a ceremony at my mailbox. I can’t help but think back to the long series of events that culminated with my receipt of this prestigious prize for film criticism: the Big Bang, the creation of the earth, the dawn of life, the first flicker of empathy in a dinosaur, a dreamy frolic on a beach.

When viewed in the context of the history of the universe – of all there has been and all there will ever be – it’s clear that this is prize is a very, very big deal.

My winning ten word review:

Meditative examination of life’s – Whoa look at that cool sunbeam!

When I heard of the contest, two inspirations immediately came to mind. The first was a Sight and Sound interview with Malick DP Emmanuel Lebezki regarding the director’s flittering attention span:

Sometimes I would be preparing a shot with 50 extras and Terry would say, “Oh look, the wind is blowing in those trees. Let’s run down and bring Pocahontas.” I’d say, “We’ve got 50 extras!” He’d say, “Who cares!”

I knew I wanted to convey how the film contends to tackle cosmic questions but constantly detours to random shots that Malick must have thought looked pretty. (Or maybe that’s part of the point? That there’s wonder even in the way a sunbeam pierces a room?)

The influence for my award-winning review’s structure is, oddly enough, a Survivor confessional that’s fairly legendary for the show’s rabid fans, like myself. The original weirdo from the first season, Greg, is talking about avoiding the game’s darker side when he stops suddenly to point out a cool flying fish. It’s weird how random cultural references stay with you and this has been my model for someone who is distractable and easily enthused for a decade.

Whoa look at that cool universe!

I was pretty sure I would win after submitting that review, just as the expanding cosmos inexorably resulted in a conflicted childhood in 1950s Waco. It was substantive and funny, which I thought was a winning combination. Too many of the other entries were too earnest and therefore boring. “An existential foray addressing questions about self, family and universe.” True, but lame! But I wanted to include something about how the movie needed more dinosaurs, so I entered again:

Film mirrors universe with one absolute truth: needs more dinosaurs

Not bad, but it needed some tightening. I tried again:

Just like everything it could use a few more dinosaurs

I think this one went too far the other way by not being profound enough. There’s a great way to state the obvious truth that the movie needs more dinosaurs in ten words but I haven’t found it yet. I also pondered composing a joke about how Sean Penn was a really ugly dinosaur.

I finished with two others. The first is a quote from an Animaniacs song but it jives with the film’s themes.

It’s a great big universe and we’re all really puny

My final, last-minute entry I am rather proud of. It relates back to my prize-winning entry’s concern, dealing with the erratic attentions of the film.

We interrupt your plot to bring you random youtube clips

Beyond (sometimes erratic) imagery, the other main impression that stayed with me is the film’s fragmented structure, reminiscent of the nature of memory. It makes it a film you experience and let wash over you more than watch traditionally. It’s structured like it was something you in your past and are now thinking back on. Memories do not have traditional story arcs. It’s beautiful and fascinating.

But good luck distilling that into ten words.

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