The Tree of Life
From the acclaimed director Terrence Malick comes The Tree of Life, an artistic and profound film about the meaning of life centering on a normal and rather insignificant family of the Midwest. The film forgoes traditional narrative in favor of a visual opus that even Stanley Kubrick would appreciate. The best thing you could do is go into the film expecting a cinematic experience; it rids itself of any conventional qualities.
The Tree of Life starts off by tells us that there are two different ways through life either nature or grace and we must choose which one to follow. Grace does not try to please itself and accepts being forgotten, disliked, insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, like to have it’s own way and finds reasons to be unhappy. Clearly that symbolizes the differences between how the mother and father end up raising their children.
The film then briefly shows a glimpse of Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) who lost one of their children. We hear from the father, mother and brother how they regretted things they did or did not do while the son was alive. A quick introduction is given to the present day Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) who is an adult but is remembering his deceased brother from childhood.
To say the film is visually stunning is a gross understatement and it does not take long for the film to show it. The film shifts not just back to the beginning of the story but the beginning of time. Beautiful shots depicting how the universe expanded and life as we would know it began.
Fast forward millions of years and Jack O’Brien is born. It slowly shows different stages of him growing up, mostly consisting of his upbringing in the house with his family. A short while later another son is born into the world and shows Jack curious of him. The children grow up together living normal lives under the somewhat strict guidance of their disciplinary father. In one immensely emotional scene, the father breaks down a bit and admits his regret of pushing his kids too hard.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the film is how Malick shows us the smallest of detail and we can instantly relate to it. Such as the way the sunlight is reflected onto a wall, the way your hand moves through the air when you put it out of a moving vehicle, or the way the wind blows through clothes hanging from the clothesline in the summer. The way he evokes emotion through visuals instead of words is amazing.
There is definitely more style over substance overall in the film which is why a lot of people have a problem with the film, it can be a bit of a challenge to watch. I would say it was more of an experience than it is a traditional film. People hated 2001 Space Odyssey when it came out because of the long absence of dialog during the opening 25 minutes. If you dig deep though the film does touch on some philosophical questions such as the age-old nature vs nurture debate.
The cinematography and use of the camera was done masterfully from the very beginning and carried throughout. It might be the most technical and beautiful American shot film since 2001 Space Odyssey. The film would certainly have my Oscar vote for cinematography but time will tell if it actually will or not. It did, however, win the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival this year.
It is a rare that a film so poetically written and masterfully filmed comes along. Watching what Malick perceives what life and death looks like is stunning. The Tree of Life may be hard for most people to watch because of it’s non-linear narrative and art like visuals but that is really quite a shame because I think it would take multiple views in order to fully appreciate. Although, to fully understand the film may be difficult to do because of how subjective the film is, which is a subject that the film itself brings up.