Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of films including The Thin Red Line, has released a polarizing new film titled The Tree of Life. Having won the Palme d’Or, the top honor, at the Cannes Film Festival, one would think the film would be a shoe-in for great success. However, the nonconventional story-arc and the unhurried pace of the film seems to have divided audiences. Despite this, the film is like nothing a movie audience has ever seen before.
The scope and grandiosity of the film are definitely daunting for the average moviegoer. The film tackles themes of death, the meaning of life, and a human’s existence in the universe, but in a much more sophisticated and pretentious way than has been put on film before. Starting at the beginning of time and finishing at the end, the film also grapples with spirituality and faith.
The narrative follows the life journey of Sean Penn’s character as he contemplates the meaning of death and existence, tries to mentally reconcile his relationship with his father (Brad Pitt), and negotiates his place in the world. The film is filled with poetic, whispered voiceovers from the main characters probing at the themes of the film and what Penn’s character is thinking and feeling.
Meant as a way to position humanity in the vastness of the universe and all existence, the film leaves the viewer with a sense of smallness and true insignificance in the grand scheme of things. One scene unquestionably helps accomplish this. Out of nowhere, after a brief introduction to the characters and story, viewers are sideswiped into a half-hour journey through the origins of the universe. This long scene plays out like National Geographic’s Planet Earth, and features surreal, cosmic and terrestrial landscapes and, yes, dinosaurs. Unlike most films these days, The Tree of Life is a movie that will leave you thinking about complicated and slightly unsettling topics.
Apart from spurring philosophical meditation, where the film truly excels is in its visual aesthetics. Every shot is perfect and looks like a work of art in and of itself. I was lost in the imagery and the overall tone and atmosphere of the film. The acting is also great and the realness of the characters should help audiences connect with the film.
However, The Tree of Life is truly not for everyone, but my suggestion is to allow yourself to completely experience it; turn off your phones, remove your watch, refrain from talking, and don’t wonder how much time has passed or when it will end. You can discuss when it is over. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film is just a little longer than your average movie, but, apparently, a 6 hour long cut does exist, which intrigues me. The Tree of Life is challenging and does not hold the audiences hand throughout to ease comprehension. It is made by the director and for the director, but what he has shared with audiences is a unique and bewildering experience.
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
About the author: August Drilling works for CliqStudios.com, an online site for kitchen cabinets, and is a television and movie fanatic.