MOVIE REVIEW: “The Tree of Life” (2011) stars Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…, World War Z), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Zero Dark Thirty), Sean Penn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , Mystic River), Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan (Mud, Ready Player One), and Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Avengers ). It is written and directed by Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line). The struggles of a family in the 1950s, clashing with a view of creation, life, and questions concerning spirituality.
If you haven’t heard of “The Tree of Life,” chances are you haven’t been to film school. And if you have… well, I’m half-surprised. The amount of times “Tree of Life” has been brought up in conversation within my filmmaker circles isn’t vast, but it’s enough to have gotten me curious. What is this movie? Why is it so highly regarded (specifically by cinematographers)? On IMDb, the flick hasn’t even cracked a seven out of ten. After seeing it, I can understand the division. Previously, I reviewed “A Ghost Story,” which I deemed to be a fun arthouse picture. After seeing “The Tree of Life,” “A Ghost Story” looks Hollywood. While I can make guesses as to what this movie is about, I have no idea what the heck I was seeing most of the time. The cinematography is beautiful, with gorgeous shots of nature and people, but the story balances itself between a family in the fifties, a man in modern day, and the creation of life as we know it. Yeah… how do they connect? Well, life, I guess. This is the first Terrence Malick feature I have seen, and from what I can tell the guy is pretty spiritual. The picture opens up on a verse from Job and leads us to believe the story asks why God does what He does. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did He create us? What is our purpose? It’s all airy, free-flowing, and mesmerizing in some cases. I was intrigued by the movie, but I won’t say I was encapsulated by it. The dilemma of the family in the fifties (led by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) was the most interesting portion. The dad was verbally (and at times physically) abusive, and the story arc centered around questioning his character and effect on the family. It was never really literal with what it was doing, and I found the direction of it all to be somewhat fresh. Seeing all of it unravel was interesting, but when it came to the moments of nature visuals and the man in modern day, I found myself nodding off. Granted, I was watching this a bit tired and late at night, but I’m sure if I saw it mid-day, I’d still drift. “The Tree of Life” is one of those films I was I was smart enough to pick up the meaning of. To have an intellectual conversation about it would be awesome, but outside of the tangible, I can’t come up with much about it. Sure, I could look up breakdowns and explanations, but that ultimately defeats the purpose when we’re supposed to walk away with our own impression. Mine was… alright. It’s not a terrible film, just one that is difficult to understand. It’s certainly not for those who want a blockbuster that knocks off studio checklist items. No siree bob. This is Tylenol PM for you all. But for those who are interested in film and filmmaking… there might be something here. It’s above my acumen to come up with its meaning, as I believe it has multiple. And while it is a beautiful movie to watch, with some interesting moments and a nice tone, I don’t see myself viewing it again (at least any time soon). It’s just too… out there, for my tastes. FINAL SCORE: 73%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: