[Note: The following links contain spoilers for a film that I do not think can really be spoiled. Nonetheless, you’ve been warned.]
[Malick] is, of course, famously reclusive and a famously slow worker. Over the course of 38 years he has made only five movies (an average of one every seven and a half years). The supposition among critics and audiences is that anyone proceeding at so ponderous a pace must be struggling to articulate truths that are at the least sublime and at most close to unspeakable. Aside from his first movie, the bleak and darkly witty “Badlands” (about a serial killer on the run with his dopily romantic girlfriend), that has not been the case. All of his subsequent efforts have been pretty, narratively empty and emotionally unengaging. You can admire his effort to find new methods of screen story telling, but it has proved impossible to involve yourself with his films at any level.
To put it bluntly, I think Schickel kind of completely misses the point of the film. Tree of Life is deeply flawed but taken on its own terms, it accomplishes far more than Schickel gives it credit for. For more even-handed (but still critical) takes on the subject, check out The Guardian or the LA Times.