Genre: Drama, Sci Fi
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken
Duration: 138 min.
The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.
The Tree of Life is a film written and directed by enigmatic American filmmaker Terrence Malick. It premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it was awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or. Known for taking a long time between films, this is only his fifth feature film since 1973.
This film is the most visually astonishing film I have seen since Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void, and in many ways is quite similar to it, both are dreamlike and deal with the questions of existence and spirituality with highly unconventional narratives. Though they operate at opposite ends of the spectrum, Enter The Void is brutal, chaotic, and focuses on death; while The Tree of Life is beautiful, poetic, and focuses on life.
I will be shocked if Emmanuel Lubezki does not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work here. From start to finish the film is filled with amazingly shot scenes and it's beyond my literary abilities to adequately describe just how magnificent they are. But not only is the camera work flawless, even the CGI visuals are breathtaking and the set decoration is immaculate. Also the sound design is incredible bringing to life every bird chirp, wave crash, and wind gust. The score by French composer Alexandre Desplat along with an extensive classical music soundtrack (I lost count of the song credits at the end) add the finishing touches to the total sensory immersion of the film.
What surprised and impressed me the most however was Malick's ability as a director. To create a film with such heavily religious overtones and portray an era and lifestyle so different than my own, yet still entirely captivate this jaded and cynical viewer and even consistently provide occasion for me to see parallels with my own life in the images and events shown. How perfectly he is able to stimulate and bring about that same sense of wonder and bewilderment that a young child sees the world with, is a talent so rare in today's cinema that it cannot be overstated.
Where the film can be seen to falter is with the story or lack of one. Malick's ambition (or pretension as some will undoubtedly describe it as) is so great here that the vast array of themes explored (which literally includes the history of the entire universe) doesn't leave any room for a coherent narrative. There is no plot, only cryptic fragments in the form of childhood memories or the remnants of them are offered, and this will make for an overly challenging experience for many viewers.
If not quite the masterpiece we all hoped for, this is still an important work and a grand artistic gesture from one of the greatest living filmmakers. Early in the film we are told that "there are two ways through life, the way of nature, and the way of grace, and we have to choose which way to follow". Well, there are two ways to make a film, the way of profit and the way of artistry, and we all know which way Terrence Malick follows.