THE TREE OF LIFE
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn
Years after the death of his younger brother, architect Jack (Penn) considers the nature of life and his place leading to cathartic memories of a troubled childhood back in 1950s Texas. He reflects on his relationship with strict authoritarian father (Pitt) and delicate mother (Chastain).
If you’re expecting a run of the mill Hollywood movie, this isn’t it: but did we really need another of them anyway? The answer is no. This film no doubt divides critics and viewers alike. Some say the Tree Of Life is too pretentious and contrived, but even if you’re still slating it months after, it’s served a purpose as you are still talking about it! Like all good art, it provokes opinion, love it or hate it at least the movie garnered a response from the masses: there will be no fence sitters, which is admirable in itself. The Tree Of Life dispels the myth that main stream films aren’t allowed to be abstract despite the fact that people fawn over controversial art, music and literature every day – why can’t film also be that way?
Before even getting to anything close to a conventional scene, Malick crafts magical sequences of the solar system, boiling lava, the moment of conception and dividing cells, ethereal jelly fish and bleak landscapes inhabited by dinosaurs while a meteor journeys to the earth. There is a reoccurring motif of a flickering light in many of the scenes and this cosmic and cataclysmic scale change is juxtaposed seamlessly with the mundane and beautiful dynamics of one family’s life.
The Tree Of Life is profound and, some say, immensely thought provoking but a lot of what an individual takes away from the viewing experience depends on how open minded they are because you’d be sorely mistaken to think this film should be taken at face value. The plot is no mean feat; it’s an impressionistic study of family life that delves into our place in the universe and relationship with a greater being.
The loss of L.R in the first act is illusive but prompts a string of age old questions as to why they are taken from us seemingly before their time. Jack and his two brothers are played by unknown actors who have an immensely natural quality as they organically recall memories and fragments of their childhood. Wisps of emotion and human memory are echoed by Malick’s heavenly imagery of golden sunlight flickering through trees, gentle breeze on fields of grass and flimsy curtains billowing. One thing that can’t be disputed is that The Tree Of Life is an incredibly beautifully shot movie.
Both parents interestingly evoke polar opposites. “The way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you follow.” is set up in the opening of the movie and Chastain embodies the way of grace, she is sweet gentle and depicted like an archangel in Jack’s recollection. In direct contrast to this, Pitt plays the archetypal disciplinarian who teaches the boys that nothing happens without will. It seems he means well, but it is lost in translation and ultimately he seems to be a tyrant who fails to value what he has.
The soundtrack is a symphony of choirs and esoteric opera which serves as an epic back drop to artistic depictions of life. The movie has a spiritual and cinematic feel to it as Malick finds beauty in the ordinary and in an answerless void. It’s this aspect of the film that leaves it vulnerable to derision and scorn because this is not what people expect. Yes, at times it does come across affectedly pretentious and you really do lose touch with the plot occasionally but the majority of the film is not in that vain.
It’s no surprise The Tree Of Life earned the Palme D’or at Cannes last year - it feels refreshing in comparison to the barrage of drivel that floods our theatres. This is a film fascinated by life: it poses the question ‘why and what are we here for.’ Thankfully, The Tree of Life does not profess to have the answers we all crave. But least it touches upon it, unlike so many others. The Tree Of Life is bold, brave and creative: it gives audiences great faith that cinema can aspire to art.