TREE OF LIFE Review

It is difficult to even know where to begin when discussing "The Tree of Life". I guess to say that I anxiously awaited seeing this film for its pure grandeur and scope made the actual experience of watching the film all the more engaging. Let me be clear in saying that it is indeed an experience when sitting down to take the journey director Terrence Malick has concocted here. He has seemingly taken all of the questions he has wondered his entire life, whether they be about God, our purpose on this earth, where we came from and what it all means and placed them into this somewhat experiment of a movie that tries to give us his thoughts on it all. It is a movie that while it does include a short sequence with dinosaurs as well as a mind blowing, visually stunning sequence in which we see the heavens and galaxies created, is mainly about how we function as living organisms and what choices we make every day determines the life we will lead, the memories we will have, and how small we really are in the whole scheme of things. Malick does this without losing focus of how this all relates to a young boy growing up in the 1950's. It is a stunning, emotional film that will forever change the way I view not just filmmaking, but my life.

In trying to explain my thoughts on the film it seems best to divide it into two sections and while it is clear that Malick's intention was to give a chill inducing realization to the role our lives play in the bigger universe the film never came off to me as disconnected. This is a coherent story, one that will test your patience if you go into this unprepared, but if you are familiar with Malick and his style you will enjoy every moment of his biggest statement to date. The film begins with a quote from Job, the one that reads, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth ... when the morning stars sang together?" this leads to the focus on the Texas family who we get to know intimately as a loving graceful mother in Jessica Chastain and a naturalistic, periodic father played with great anger and resentment by Brad Pitt. He is a righteous man, always giving, searching but never seeming to reach that ideal state of livelihood that he saw himself experiencing as a young man. Like Job, he feels he has lost everything and yearns to avoid such things falling upon his children. These opposing forces that are his parents cause serious conflict within their eldest son. In thanks to Sean Penn we are able to see this son as an older man and how he still wrestles with the influences that were instilled in him as a young boy. We are constantly hearing voice overs, many from the son, Jack, wondering aloud what are no doubt Malick's personal musings. The film is resolved when jack finds his own way to resolution no matter how abstract that might actually be. It is a testament to nature vs. nurture and how instead of one winning out over the other that instead that we, as mankind are able to navigate between both of them.

These philosophical questions the film attempts to answer only tend to spawn hundreds more. This keeps us on the edge of our seat as does every frame of the film. Malick is easily one of the most recognizable filmmakers in terms of his style and he does not disappoint here. Every frame could be hung on a wall as a beautiful portrait. He finds such interesting ways to frame things and with minimal dialogue is able to convey powerfully every emotion that is going on between those on screen as well as evoke a response from the viewer. What is great and indeed powerful about Malick's camera work is that even though we can tell this is different than anything we may have seen before we can't immediately put our finger on what separates it. It is a technique all his own, more sensations than concrete moments. One's he has clearly meditated over and very carefully chosen for specific reason why he has chosen to deliver this story, these visuals in the way he does. For many, this seems to be the biggest division in "The Tree of Life" and that is why I wanted to discuss them separately. One being the visuals the other being the story. It would be easy to dismiss the film as a series of pretty pictures that is at times, indulgent. I can't help but disagree though as a visual style of this film so greatly forms an inseparable relationship between those visuals and the story that it is telling. Everything enforces the beautiful images further, the way in which the characters speak and move as well as the way it is edited and how it comes out as an overall soulful experience. The early montages of the creation of our world and the galaxies around it to the molecular cells that sparked our race are representative of natures power that allows it to go on whether we as humans survive or not.

The film is best described as an epic. An event, that is more ambitious and is itself a small piece of a larger puzzle that Malick seems to be searching to complete. The state of mind in which you walk away from this film will no doubt baffle you, you may not understand it and no matter how long you seem to concentrate on it and try to decipher all the meaning it means to convey you still feel as if you haven;t even scratched the surface. Even after going through this review I feel i have left out so much, I have missed so much of what Malick was attempting to tell me. The best part about this though is that it means this is a challenging film. It is gorgeous and unconventional, but it truly makes you think. It makes you wonder. There are so many layers to this movie, but it works due to that central drama of the family in Texas and I have to go by instinct here and believe Malick is giving us a glimpse into how his childhood memories still ring in his mind every day. How he felt, how he questioned the ways of which he was expected to act and the defiance with which he dreamed to achieve. Even that sentence feels to small in scale to explain the film, but at its core, that is where we are taken. This is unlike anything else you will see or have seen before, I don't know what else to say. Please see this, and please give it a chance. It will change you, at least for the moment.