The Tree of Life – A Review
Written and directed by: Terrence Malick
Genre: Surrealistic Family Drama
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
For fans of: All those other surrealistic family dramas out there
Spoilers: It’s hard to have spoilers for this film, but I will discuss details
ONE MINUTE SUMMARY
I can do this in less time than a minute. First, snapshot scenes of a family, followed by the creation of the universe, a scene with dinosaurs, then more snapshot scenes of a family followed by a scene in heaven.
More specifically, it’s about a family from Texas in the 1950s. The parents, with father Brad Pitt and mother Jessica Chastain, have three boys. Most of the story follows Jack, the eldest, as a pre-teen, and then again as a reminiscent adult (Sean Penn).
WHY PEOPLE DON’T LIKE IT
The Tree of Life is lauded by many critics and hated by many viewers. This bifurcation is understandable because they love/hate the movie for the same reasons: it’s non-linear, tacit, highly subjective, open to interpretation and full of opera. We have an interesting preface, but that’s followed by a twenty minute chronological summary straight from the likes of Discovery Channel. Then it’s as if Malick took all the rest of the scenes and threw them in haphazardly. The critics call this ‘high-art’ ; the masses call it ‘boring.’
WHY I LIKE IT
This is a visually beautiful film.
This is a spiritually beautiful film.
This is my favorite film of the year.
Visually, Malick is a master. I expected long shots of golden fields lasting literally minutes, like we have in Badlands, Days of Heaven and The New World. What we have is something superior: the entire beginning of the universe. We’ve learned prior that there are two ways to live-by nature or by grace-and we have this in mind as watch the beginnings of both. When Jack is born, it seems as if everything is graceful, even nature itself. But as he grows, he finds out more and more that the two begin to split.
The rest of the film is striking as well. The Americana that is presented makes us long to have grown up in the 1950s. Malick seems to disregard much of what was bad about this era in US and sticks with the silver linings. The town is nice, the people are normal, the family is good. There are exceptions, and because there is normality, the anomalies resonate all the more. There is a boy with a scarred face. There is a man with a physical challenge. Maybe they didn’t exist before Jack started growing up; maybe he’s just noticing them for the first time. Now that he’s losing his innocence he begins to see the uglier side of nature.
JACK’S DAD: NATURE
Brad Pitt’s Mr. O’Brien is a man who believes in simple things. Children should mind their parents, wives should mind their husbands, and everyone should work hard. To reach these ideal values, he teaches his boys how to fight. He punishes them when they don’t obey. He forces his wife to submit.
JACK’S MOM: GRACE
Jack’s mom is the antithesis to her husband. She plays with the boys, fosters their imaginations, let’s them be kids. This is a slap in the face to her husband, because she’s turning them against him and toward her. She tells us through voice over about how to live and how to love. Much of it is abstract, but seems to be taken from biblical passages.
Spiritually The Tree of Life has so much to say. There are prayers said to God through the conceit of voice over. There is a lot of faith in The Tree of Life. Even when Mrs. O’Brien questions her priest of God’s ways, she doesn’t doubt her belief that he exists. She begs God to tell her why tragedy occurs. She prays in honest terms. Sometimes the prayers in the film are not really what’s being said aloud, but what’s in the heart. For instance, in one scene Jack is praying aloud that he would be a good boy but through the voice over you hear his true whispers to God ,
Said Prayer: Help me not to tell lies.
Whispered Prayer: Are You watching me? I want to know what You are. I want to see what You see.
I highly recommend The Tree of Life, knowing full well that many people will not like it. But whether you like it or not, you will be changed for having seen it.
FIRST TIME EVER RATING: 10 out of 10