Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is not just a film; it’s a work of art. A visually stunning masterpiece, the film, much like any piece of great art, is a rich tapestry of images, sounds, and sequences open to multiple interpretations. The juxtaposition of elements enables the viewer to become immersed in a film world unlike any they have probably experienced before.
The Tree of Life dares its audience to throw away their preconceived ideas and concepts of what a film should be. It strives to deliver much more than a traditional three-act narrative structure that is the norm in modern Hollywood filmmaking. There is much more of an avant-garde, independent feel to the film; its overall meaning and substance lies far below the surface.
Despite the disjointed feel of the film, there is interconnectedness to the overall structure that deals with the concepts of grace and nature. How these two ideas interact, conflict, and coexist is evident in nearly every scene and sequence. This is not an easy task that Malick has given; the film diverts down pathways that do seem to be unrelated and yet there is a cohesiveness and purpose in all that we witness.
Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain deliver powerful performances as Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien during the sequences set in the 1950s. These slice-of-life sequences help ground us in some semblance of a narrative, but even these moments are rife with symbolism and metaphor.
Sean Penn – who’s only in the film for a few minutes – represents the O’Brien’s eldest son, Jack, in present day. Once more we have a sequence of scenes and images that allow us to interpret what they truly mean in the grand scope of the film, but we also get a sense that Penn’s character is still a lost and confused young boy searching for answers and meaning in his own life.
The three actors who plays the O’Brien’s sons are fantastic, and their performances (thanks to Malick never giving them a script to work from) feel real and genuine. Jack (Hunter McCracken) is our protagonist, guiding us through the childhood universe of the 1950s. It is his journey that grounds us and enables us to begin to make sense out of what we are seeing throughout the film.
And there is a lot to see. Visuals are a key component of the film, and this holds true over the course of the viewing experience, but especially in the first third where we witness the creation of the universe. It’s a sequence worthy of an IMAX film of it’s own; stunning, breathtaking, and awe inspiring.
As the film unfolds we are shown countless images and moments that only help fuel the interpretive nature of The Tree of Life. There’s a lot to process and explore within the context and universe of the film, and it’s certainly not a film that can be taken lightly.
The Tree of Life is a thinking persons piece; a feast for both the eyes and the mind. It is a film that will mean different things to different people and will most likely have a completely different meaning with each subsequent viewing. Malick has created nothing short of a masterwork that will have people thinking and exploring for decades to come.
Along with the film, the Blu-ray version includes the 30-minute documentary, Exploring The Tree of Life. If you’re a little hazy in regards to what the movie is truly about and the reasons behind certain elements, I highly recommend watching this. Along with interviews with the cast and crew about the film, there are also interviews with filmmakers Christopher Nolan and David Fincher.
This is not a film for everyone. The Tree of Life requires one’s full attention, patience, and an analytical mindset in order to fully appreciate what Malick has done. For a film that’s anything but traditional or ordinary, I recommend The Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life is available October 11, 2011 on Blu-ray and DVD.
What did you think of The Tree of Life? What’s your favorite Terrence Malick film? Leave a comment and let us know!