THE TREE OF LIFE
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn
Jack O’Brien (Penn) can’t seem to cope with the loss of his brother that happened decades ago at the age of 19. When he sees a tree being planted outside the architecture firm where he works, he reminisces of his childhood in the 1950s. He has a volatile relationship with his dad (Pitt), a nurturing relationship with his mom (Chastain), and brotherly love with his two younger brothers. As he looks back at his upbringing he contemplates the mysteries of life, the world’s origins, birth, death, and his relationships. Malick created a non-linear story about the meaning of nature and grace in a very experimental way.
Malick’s latest cinematic offering is not for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with that. Not every movie has to appeal to everyone. People will either love this movie or hate it. There is nothing wrong with that either. It’s one of those movies where if people hated it, I wouldn’t try to defend it or try to persuade them into liking it. I can fully understand why it may not be someone’s cup of tea. Is it self-indulgent and try too hard to be artistic? Yes. I think many of the nature sequences (including the dinosaurs) could have been trimmed and not sacrificed the beauty of the movie. The dialogue is quite sparse during the first half of the movie. It’s told more in a poetic style than dialogue between the characters. It switches in the second half as the memories of Jack and his family come to mind. The use of sound is very particular throughout the movie. There is a note at the beginning suggesting you play the movie very loudly to get the full effect. Malick sent theaters very specific instructions for the projectionists on how to play the movie. It may even be jarring at times. The dialogue can be whisper quiet in one scene while the score is pumped up to high volumes in the next.
While some of the artistic choices are pretentious at times, I still found myself fascinated over all. I kept my eyes glued to the screen as I tried to figure out where the story was going and what images were going to pop up next. Pitt and Chastain both had winning years this year with fine performances in this movie and others. I would have liked to seen more of Penn. His screen time is very limited and he is left with scenes where he’s staring off into space or roaming a desert as he looks back on his life. Like I’ve said before, the movie is very artistic and beautiful. Is it pretentious? Yes. Is it over the top? Yes. Do I still have plenty of unanswered questions? Yes. Does it all make sense? No. Will it appeal to everyone? No. I found myself intrigued, but I also know many people who did not like it. That is one of the reasons why movies like this are intriguing. It stirs up such mixed reaction and gets people talking.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5)