Gus van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES is a pulverisingly beautiful film. It takes place within despair, as we’re guided by Matthew McConaughey, who after the death of his wife flies to Japan to kill himself in the Aokigahara Forest, know as the “suicide forest”.
When McConaughey gets to the forest, he meets a man played by Ken Watanabe who is wandering with his wrists cut open and is slowly bleeding out. As the two men pair up, traveling deeper into the forest their hope for survival inadvertently grows.
The film premiered at Cannes and was blasted by critics. Yet again, I find myself falling in love with a “poor” film that has been deemed van Sant’s “worst movie”. Is this film for everyone? No. Is it for the average person Redbox’ing the latest McConaughey disc? Probably not. But you should still watch it.
This is a film that asks a lot of hard questions. A painstaking majority of the film is introspective reflection by McConaughey. What happens to love when it is concretely gone? What is left when life has no more person value?
It is a heavy film told through quiet moments and unromantisized flashbacks between McConaughey and his wife played brilliantly by Naomi Watts. At times, this is a very hard film to watch. McConaughey and Watanabe give equally emotionally charged performances that are draining. Yet, through all the despair and grief we see on screen, the film’s message of survival and hope is effortlessly inspiring.