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Tree of Life – review

Tree of Life

PhotobucketTree of Life is a film that is rooted in the science of life.  We go through life attached to our parents who gave us life and are connected to them, along with our siblings (if we have any), from the day we are born until the day they die, or we die.  It examines these biological connections and our connection with nature, the world, and the universe from the beginning of time.  What is the meaning of our life in the greater order of everything that surrounds us?

I have a love hate relationship for director Terrence Malick.  He is widely recognized as one of the greatest directors of all time.  His films have been described as almost “Kubrickian” in form and feel.  To this I will never agree.  There are very few directors that are able to carve out their own unique identities and create films so distinct that you immediately know it was created by them.  Stanley Kubrick of course, David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Qunetin Tarantino, and Akira Kurosawa are just a few who have achieved this goal.  I’m not sure if I believe that Malick is up there with those directors however.  Just because you only make a film every 10 years or so doesn’t make every single one a masterpiece.  While his first two films Badlands and Days of Heaven near perfection, his other films The Thin Red Line, and the near unwatchable New World have no buisness even being in the same sentence as the masters I’ve listed.   Like most of his films, The Tree of Lifeasks the viewer to absorb and contemplate the film rather than just watch and be entertained by it.  His films attempt to be more like great works of art, and at times he achieves this, while other times I feel he fails miserably.  That being said,  Tree of Life is Malick’s finest film since his debut, and his most daring film ever.

Tree of Life operates as two entirely separate films.  One section explores the relationships between family members over the course of a few decades.  Brad Pitt plays patriarch Mr. Obrien, a man who guides his wife and his three boys through life with a stern fist.  I’m sure he is not unlike most American fathers during the 50’s.  His boys represent the population of youth at that time that loved their mothers and were terrified of their fathers, most growing up swearing they would not become them as adults.  It’s an interesting look into a families dynamic during a very interesting time in America.  This portion of the film is shot with numerous extreme closeups as we are asked to focus on individual moments over the course of those years.  Some moments are tiny vignettes that barely shape their lives, other moments are defining.  We also see one of his son’s Jack, played by Sean Penn as a modern day adult.  He is a very successful architect who begins to reminisce about his youth and what happened to he and his brothers, and the rest of his family, during that time growing up.  He contemplates his past as it affects his present life.  As a youth he was torn between the sternness of his father and the grace and love of his mother.  His father also seems to have grappled with the choices he makes for his family.  He once wanted to be a professional musician, but instead chose to become an inventor.

The second part of the film examines the creation of the universe.  We are spoken to by a wavering flickering light that may or may not be god, or a representation of something out there that is the impetus for the creation of everything. The role of god, or the absence of god is an interesting concept in looking at the two parts as a whole. We see galaxies form, gases colide, planets created, life evolve, and life die.  These images are hard to understand in the capacity of the film as a whole, yet they are quite beautiful to watch on the screen.  At times Malick channels Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in understanding the evolution of mankind. We are supposed to connect the two parts of the film together perhaps creating our own vision or thought of why we are here on earth, and what our small roles may mean.

Upon its first screening it was boo’d and then went on to win the Palm d’Or at Cannes.  Tree of Life is one of those films that is either going to be completely loved, or completely hated, and I can appreciate the fact that Malick understands that, and is trying to create something unique.  Some of you will absolutely hate this film, and I can complete understand it, but if you attempt to view it as something more than just a film then you most surely will understand why I enjoyed it.  The film is an experiment in understanding human life from the very beginning of time.  It is the oldest question, to which we will probably never find the answer too.  It’s a film whos’ images attempt to resonate within us, and remind us of precious moments that we may have had as children or young adults.  Tree of Life is a pointer to all those moments and is also a beautifully shot film.  It’s very tedious at times but Malick has succeeded overall in creating something unique and special, and forcing us to think about what he is putting on screen.

Grade: A