From the outer realms of the cosmos to the domestic blisters of daily life, a man grapples with the powerful opposing forces of Grace and Nature
The Tree of Life could very well be writer/director Terence Malick’s ultimate masterpiece. It’s a remarkable movie from the man who brought us such classics as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, pondering big questions like; ‘why be good when God and even your own father are so often not?’. It probes these quandaries in such a thoughtful, imaginative and personal manner that we’re sucked in to the non-linear ride even though it might not provide us with any answers.
Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) is trying to make sense of the death of his brother. In an extended meditation on the sequence of events that got him to this point, we flash back to the swirling gases of the big bang and the emergence of single celled creatures that evolve into dinosaurs. A sperm penetrates an ova and a child is born to parents Mr O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Jessica Chastain). This is young Jack (Hunter McCracken) who, as the eldest of three children, comes to bear the brunt of the family’s growing pains.
Early childhood memories flood the film with love and light but when Jack witnesses the death of a local boy at the town’s swimming hole, the gears shift into something more unpredictable. As Jack tries to reconcile the random death with mounting tensions at home, he starts to test the boundaries of his own front lawn and soon finds himself alienated from his abusive father.
This is a story about one family in Waco, Texas – Terence Malick’s own home town. But it’s also a story about life itself. The father represents nature – he is both violent and creative at the same time. The mother personifies grace – she loves everything and everyone but even she can lash out when provoked. Faced with these contradictions, Jack must choose for himself which path to take.
This is a wonderfully challenging film with stunning cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki who was nominated for an Oscar, as was Malick and the movie itself. Production Designer Jack Fisk does a great job recreating small town America in 1956, modern day Houston where the grown-up Jack finds himself isolated and adrift, and an other worldly place where families forgive and finally reconnect.
We like to think that we have control over our lives but in fact we don’t. It’s all about the choices we make moment to moment. So many things remain a mystery. And the reason for the many varied events that besiege us throughout our brief lives is one of those things. The Tree of Life is a breath of fresh air in that it dares to try and express that unwieldy sentiment, and in doing so, it offers up a strange and vicariously cathartic experience.Get Tree of Life