To say Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life is a unique, beautiful viewing experience is a superb understatement. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy being challenged by films that don’t follow a traditional narrative then this film is not for you. However, if you’re eager to be immersed in concepts of life and death via stunning visuals and outstanding acting then I suggest you drop everything and watch it immediately. It could be life-affirming…and possibly a little terrifying. I will guarantee that it will forever change how you view your place in the universe. Here’s a hint- you’ll feel very small and insignificant.
The film is centered around an all-American suburban married couple as they deal with the trials of raising three precocious boys. I won’t detail the entire story here because, well, for one it’s not easy to explain. There are reviewers who do a much better job analyzing what the film may or may not be about. I can tell you what it felt like to me- like watching a person’s most intimate memories. Everything from the voyeuristic way the memories play out to the sun’s way of naturally lighting what you need to see, is like stepping into a time machine. And believe me, this machine goes WAY back. You will sit slack-jawed as Mr. Malick takes you on a journey from the beginning of the universe to a small tree-lined street where children play.
Tree of Life deals with the science of evolution and the nature of spirituality. It asks all the questions we ask ourselves. Who are we? How did we get here? Where do we go when our time here is done? The film hints at answers but how you interpret them is up to you. Like life, you’ll probably know when you die. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess. That’s the nature of faith.
On a purely technical level, the film is a sumptuous buffet of images- whether it’s the formation of galaxies or the fireflies fluttering about on a warm summer night. The direction is gorgeous and natural, which is exactly how I would describe the performances. Even if the unconventional narrative throws you off, the lush visuals will keep you engrossed.
Imagine you could live your life over again? Not just the highlights. All the good and bad. What would you do over if you could? A film that asks you profound questions to think about is a rare, special film indeed.
Production year: 2011
Runtime: 138 mins
Directors: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Dalip Singh, Fiona Shaw, Hunter McCracken, Jackson Hurst, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Kari Matchett, Laramie Eppler, Sean Penn, Tye Sheridan