"The Tree of Life" is one of the most visually beautiful and intricate movies ever made. The man at the wheel of the picture is the reclusive Terrence Malick whose career has been marked with mystery. He refuses to be seen in public and has never given an interview. People sometimes suppose that he doesn't actually exist, which is preposterous...is it? What Malick chooses to do is to make the viewer analyze, there's no other way to understand what's going on. "The Tree of Life" is borderline indescribable. In this review, I'm including snapshots of some of the moments in the film, in order to show the jumbled, beautiful puzzle that "The Tree of Life" is.
It's hard to tackle such a film like this, because it defies all natural conventions. The time line jumps around from the middle/late 20th century, to the beginning of time, to the age of the dinosaurs. Each scene has something to say....but what is it? It differs from viewer to viewer. This is a movie that can spark all sorts of debates and discussion which is what I think its purpose is. Remember that Malick was a professor of philosophy so everything he does has a purpose. The film centers around one family, the O'Brien family. A middle class family with problems just as much as the next one. At the beginning of the film, we are told that one of their three sons is dead, this sends the mother spiraling into a grief section.
It's important to note that everything in this movie is shot by the incredibly gifted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a long time collaborator of Malick's. The camera work is stunning in "The Tree of Life", floating around like no other movie you have ever seen. Lubezki seems to strive to make the most artistic shots and angles in complex fashions. It's really a miracle to watch it unfold. The camera is frantic in heightened scenes and steady when it needs to be, I think that it's a real shame that Lubezki didn't walk out of the Academy Awards with an Oscar. But his work is what we view the story through, that and Malick's random edits that jumps around as previously mentioned.
"The Tree of Life" is mainly about what its name suggests—life. How does one family fit into the cosmic width of the universe? Malick is in full force here enforcing simple ideas, like how powerful hatred can be and how it is as real as the solar system. What strong a force grief is and how hard it is to let go of someone you love. From adolescence to revenge, "The Tree of Life" seems to take hold of every imaginable issue you could think of. At parts, it makes absolutely no sense and others are crystal clear, until you talk to someone else who had to exact opposite reaction.
Jack is the main storyteller of the movie, he and his mom both share the screen. We follow him as he grows from a little boy into a man and how he hates his father and loves his mother. His father is strict, a typical man from that time period. Malick so keenly and uncannily brings the hypocrisies of parenthood to screen. It really made me remember my childhood and thoughts that I had at that time. Jessica Chastain is the real star of the movie as Mrs. O'Brien. She is the reason that Jack is who he is. She is Jack in a way. Chastain is such a delight to watch and you can't helped but be amazed be her skills and the beauty and grace she brings to her character. The year "The Tree of Life was released, 2011, was a breakout year for Chastain, scoring her first Oscar nomination for "The Help". It says a lot about an actress when she can overpower her big name co-stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. One of the larger themes of "The Tree of Life" is motherhood, which Chastain makes so real.
Looking back over what I've written so far, I realize that I haven't really done the picture any justice. I find it so hard to write about this film because of how intimate and bizarre it is. The movie is frustrating at times, wearing on your patience. One scene has a twenty minute montage of outer space shots while opera music is playing, showing how the world was formed. Classical music accompanies the movie as well as a very minor and lovely score from Alexadre Desplat.
"The Tree of Life" is comprised with marvelous shots of nature and reveals, with each passing scene, a little more about Malick's view on humanity.
It's complicated, stunningly beautiful, and filled with wonder. A film that should and will be studied.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars