Terrence Malick’s fifth major motion picture and winner of the 2011 Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival, “The Tree of Life” does not disappoint, but might not be for all audiences.
The impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s, the film follows the journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. (Written by alfiehitchie)
The screening of this film was almost as unique as the film itself. Typical screenings are opened to the press as well as select members of the general public. Perhaps to ensure the mythology of the film’s development, a process which has stretched out to about three years now, only the press was allowed to view this screening. The immediate reaction afterward was that no critic present wanted to be the one to say they didn’t enjoy it or it was too pretentious. The comment I left was simply “I don’t know who is going to see this film.” Quickly followed by, “but I liked it.” Nothing is shallower than a critic in front of his peers.
The best way to describe the film is a mash-up between a Gasper Noé and an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. While both of those directors use distinctly obtuse storylines (truthfully, Jodorowsky was out of his mind on LSD at the time), there is a steady plot to the images provided by Malick. But, if you found “Inception” hard to follow, this one is going to be impossible. There are thirty of more minutes of the film that flow like “Baraka,” where the images and metaphors quickly overtake any dialogue or story.
Amid the images, Brad Pitt turns in one of the best performances of his career. He pulls off the role of a father in a way that Brad Pitt circa 1998 never could. Also worth noting is that Sean Penn is mostly absent from the film except in several pensive scenes interspersed throughout the main narrative. While this is somewhat disappointing, he brings a weighted sadness to the role of adult Jack that is scene-stealing even with the brevity of his performance.
All this doesn’t mean that this isn’t a magnificent film – I really did love it. But I stand by the statement that most people are not going to enjoy it. This is a heavy film that needs to seen with an empty mind and an appetite for digestion. Compared to the other seasonal films, this one will leave a lingering ache in your head. In the same breath, this is the type of film we need more of. Studios should routinely sacrifice a few “Drive Angry” and “Fast Fives” to finance films of this magnitude.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. Expand your movie experience and support intelligent film making. Also be able to make pretentious remarks to others about how they just didn’t get the film and this is what real film making is about.
FOUR STARS out of four.
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.
Runtime: 2 hour and 18 minutes