Tree of Life is the movie that trailer you saw that was just a bunch of weird abstract scenes cut together that happened to have Brad Pitt in them. You saw that trailer and went wtf? and wrote it off as some pretentious film. I’m guessing here. It seems that was a number of people’s reactions and for some who have actually watched the film, their views haven’t changed.
I’m a big fan of Terrence Malick. I mean I love all of his films. They may not all be great masterpieces, but I still love them if for no other reason than they are gorgeous to watch. You can criticize the rest of the film, but I can’t understand a complaint about how his films visually aren’t stunning. Years ago when I hear this was being made, I was excited. Malick doesn’t exactly pump films out at a steady pace. That and you don’t see or hear much from him even when he is making a movie.
Tree of Life is very much a sort of abstract film. That seems the most fitting term right now. I think that’s something you need to really grasp going into the film. There is a story, but it’s told through images, not dialog. The film is about life (whoda thunk it?). Specifically the film focuses on the O’Brien family and at the opening of the film you learn that one of there three sons has died. Eventually you get to Sean Penn (one of Pitt’s and Chastin’s sons) and you watch him coping with his brother’s death. The rest of the film is supposed to be his memories of growing up (more or less). You follow his birth and the way his parents care for him and later his brothers. A lot fo time is focused on Penn’s character struggling with adolescence.
Yes there are dinosaurs in the film. Early on Malick basically shows the creation of Earth and Life. It’s really beautiful and moving. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of the film because it’s entirely visual and it’s just mesmerizing to watch.
Anyways, the beginning of the film is confusing, I’ll admit. The film is non-liner and early on there’s a lot of weird sequences that don’t seem to make sense. That’s also when you have most of those weird hosts of space and the Universe creation thing. After the dinosaurs everything flows more linearly if you’re worried about that.
Again there essentially is no dialog in the film. The characters say maybe one or two words on occasion. There are also a few times when you get a very short voice over. The rest of the film relies on you keeping your eyes open and following what the characters physically do. People keep praising the actors of the Artist for the emotions conveyed in a “silent” medium. Tree of Life does a better job to me. In both films you’re connecting to the characters visually not audibly and Tree of Life does a better job of that, but I don’t want to make this about the Artist.
Since you don’t have anyone telling you what the story is during the film, it’s left up to you to figure it out. For the most part it’s pretty clear. The film opens with a saying about following the path fo grace or nature and those two “paths” are reflected in Chastain and Pitt’s characters. Basically the young Senn Penn is supposed to find which of those paths to follow. I’ve since read synopsis of the film which filled in little details I missed, but it didn’t take anything away from the movie. It was mostly just specifying what went on. The story is really solid, it’s just told in an unusual manner that’s probably off-putting to most. I mean it really isn’t that hard to follow if you don’t dismiss it immediately.
The content of the film is incredibly moving and really quite dark. I mean, a number of children die in this film and the O’Brien kids see some of them. And I don’t know how anyone can’t be moved by Chastain’s relationship with her sons.
The film is beautiful. “Nuff said. This movie is eye candy and even if I had been unable to follow the story, I still would have watched the film, because it was visually spectacular.
The score was great as well. It did a wonderful job of highlighting what was on the screen and more than made up for lack of other audio in the film.
The acting was pretty good as well. I think Jessica Chastain was great. She deserved and Oscar nod for this role over The Help. Brad Pitt was good, though his part really didn’t stand out. Same with Sean Penn really. The kids were great though. I thought they did a fantastic job. Between Tree of Life and Hugo I’m starting to have high hopes for some young actors.
Tree of Life isn’t meant for everyone. It’s a beautiful film that is not that complicated, but it s unconventional. If you’re skeptical, watch past the dinosaur part. If it doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea after that, then shut it off. It’s a great film that I can watch a gain, but it definitely isn’t something you just decided to watch, because you’re bored. It’s a movie you have to be prepared to sit down and watch. You need to be in the mood for it.
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