Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" has been struggling to make it into U.S. distribution for roughly two years. Now, after endless hype and early buzz, the film finally makes its way into theaters.
This is a movie that some will deem as a timeless masterpiece while others will find it to be more tedious than watching grass grow. Even for the film's biggest supporters, "The Tree of Life" will undoubtedly frustrate and test the patience.
Personally, I had to take a while to contemplate my feelings toward "The Tree of Life" after its screening. In many instances you might not know what you're supposed to think while watching "The Tree of Life" or what the film itself wants you think. But to me that's simply a sign of a truly great movie.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that a film such as this can never be perfect, especially after just one viewing. I think that every time somebody goes back to see the film, they'll find something new to admire.
For that purpose, I look forward to seeing "The Tree of Life" again soon. As for now, though, I can contently say that this is nothing short of one of the most fascinating and profound movie-going experiences of this young century.
A majority of the film's narrative takes place in a small Texas town during the 1950s. Early in the movie, a mother and father, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, receive word that one of their three young sons has died. The film then flashes forward to contemporary America where their oldest son Jack, now played by Sean Penn, is still coping with the events of his early life.
From there on we see the evolution of Jack's childhood, from his birth to his days as a young schoolboy where he is played by the promising newcomer, Hunter McCracken.
The film features little dialog, which is mainly expressed through internal monologues. This easily could have been a daunting handicap for the cast. Yet, all of the actors prevail to create fully realized human beings. This is some of the strongest work of Pitt's career as a stern father who loves his children, but also resents his family for holding him back. When given any indication that his wife and children do not respect him, he loses control.
Pitt expresses a majority of this through his actions, only occasionally using dialog when necessary. This just goes to show that capturing the turmoil of a character through body language is every bit as demanding as delivering a dramatic speech.
"The Tree of Life" is also one of the finest films ever told from a child's point of view.
Through fragmented memories of Jack, the audience is reminded of being a child and the unsettling confusion of seeing a family argue through a window or the guilt of accidentally killing an innocent animal. It's an experience so genuine that at times you're half convinced that what you're witnessing is real life.
Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" is one film that instantly comes to mind while observing "The Tree of Life." Like "2001," "The Tree of Life" is an unforgettable visual experience in every respect, from the gorgeous scenic design to the heavenly score to the astonishing cinematography from the great Emmanuel Lubezki. There's a particularly awe-inspiring extended sequence where we see the evolution of our world that's right on the same page of the Dawn of Man portion of "2001."
Fundamentally, both films bring up numerous questions and ideas through visual poetry. Where "2001" asked questions regarding what's out there in the universe, "The Tree of Life" asks questions like, "Why does God allow good people to die?" and "Why should I be good if God hasn't been good to me?"
What prevents "The Tree of Life" from being on the unsurpassable level of "2001: A Space Odyssey" is a lack of payoff. The Penn character plays a key role in the film, revealing the older Jack still coping with the loss of his brother.
But we don't get to see nearly enough of him. The final act of the film in particular feels abrupt, which deducts from the otherwise profound final sequence of the film.
Despite some of its uneven attributes, "The Tree of Life" still remains one of the year's most remarkable achievements that I will not forget anytime soon.
"The Tree of Life" also further exemplifies that movies should be much more than a mindless exercise to kill a couple hours. A movie should steer emotions within you and leave one wanting to come back for more.
"The Tree of Life" is a removie that does just that.