The Tree of Life
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Joanna Going
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
The enigmatic and always secretive Terrence Malick is back, with a new film that has just won the Palm D'Or at Cannes. The director has thus far been responsible for 5 films, in a career spanning 4 decades. It has been widely known that Malick takes time to shoot and mainly to edit his films. After reading the book from Peter Biskind, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls", it's easy to understand that Malick is obsessive and detailed in his approach in finding the right tone for a film - "Days of Heaven" for instance, took two years of editing. "The Tree of Life" is a philosophical contemplation about the meaning of life, about being true to oneself, the meaning of pure love, all seen through the eyes of a family in the suburbs of a north american city in the 50s. Through the eyes of that family, and in particular through the eyes of the elder child, Jack, we come to realize the dichotomies of what life and love are about and how they affect the way we relate to nature and the planet itself.
This is a very ambitious film, simultaneously grandiose and intimate. Terrence Malick paints a broad canvas, utilizing the microcosms of a family to extend his metaphors to the entire human race. Jack, the main character, is torn between the loose and loving upbringing of his mother, and the more disciplined and strict ruling of his father. These contradictions plant seeds of discomfort for his life as an adult, something that influences his relationships. The director approaches this remotely and with some distance - the current life of Jack is never more than a sad glance from Sean Penn, or an arid and void space where he stands. All the characters end up being keys for understanding a deeper meaning of how relationships should function and make sense in the world. Sadly, the characters are never fully explored and though the film tries to go in many directions, and it does reach some points of poignant beauty, it is also borderline simplistic and of questionable taste (particularly some "new age" scenes towards the end of the film). It's a film beautifully shot by Emmanuel Lubezki and very well acted by Brad Pitt. Jessica Chastain is muted throughout the film, as is Sean Penn. An interesting and flawed experience, worth investigating.