The best way to describe The Tree of Life would be that it depicts a man’s existential and philosophical views on life while taking a retrospective look at his childhood in 1950’s Texas. The plot may sound a little complex and slightly pretentious but the film won a Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, so it definitely made me want to see what all the fuss was about.
The film’s director, Terrence Malick, has only made six films since 1969, including The Thin Red Line and The New World, but besides his multiple hiatuses, Malick is known for his specific directing style that usually consists of breath-taking scenes and The Tree of Life is no exception.
…the opposing values installed in him growing up…
The film’s non-linear narrative begins with Sean Penn as Jack O’Brien in the present day questioning life and recalling his childhood. Raised in a modest home with his two brothers (one of whom dies) Jack remembers the way his parents took different stances on raising him and his brothers. His mother represents grace, a kind and nurturing woman, whereas his father represents nature a strict and sometimes intimidating presence in the home. Although his methods are extreme, the father aims to teach his sons about the harsh realities of the world: a world that he feels has not been in his favour.
The father’s pessimistic outlook on life is contrasted with Jack’s view of the world in which he enjoys being outside and having fun. There are a number of striking images of trees and flowers that are simply beautiful, but there are also scenes of the world and universe being formed, which although a little out of place at times, tie in with Jack’s contemplation of life. By the film’s conclusion Jack comes to terms with the opposing values installed in him growing up and he reaches a place of acceptant about life and for what is to come.
…Brad Pitt does a stellar job as the father…
The Tree of Life is longwinded, self-indulgent and the lack of dialogue makes it hard to focus and become completely invested in Jack’s story. There are a number of scenes that are breath-taking but they did sometimes detract from the story rather than add to it. While watching the film it seemed as though the views of people who have previously worked with Malick are right. The director spends most of his energy perfecting beautiful shots as opposed to building the story of the characters. On the other hand, Brad Pitt does a stellar job as the father and Jessica Chastain’s ethereal face alone does well to translate beauty and grace even though her lines are scarce.
Malick creates polarising opinions when it comes to filmmaking, but he is one director who knows how to make a visually amazing film. The Tree of Life would have benefited from a stronger plot, but it is clear that Malick relishes in telling stories in a fragmented and abstract way. So if you’re looking for a character driven story then maybe a Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann film is for you but if you are looking for innovative and artistic story telling then this is the guy for you.