Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Tree of Life: Movie Review

Life in the grandest, and almost inexplicable, of scales.

"The Tree of Life" is not a film that can be understood, nor can it be explained. It also does not want to be described in any one way. We jump from decade to decade, from solar system to solar system, and from era to era in the history of the planet. As specific as can be allowed, it's about life, also the universe. In parts, it's about family or childhood, but certainly, not on the whole.2011

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Screenplay by: Terrence Malick

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastian and Sean Penn

It's a masterpiece in its visual presentation. There are eye-popping, breath-taking and heart-stopping shots of nature beyond comparison to anything you would ever see in an IMAX nature documentary. We see Earth from beyond our atmosphere, from under the sea, and then we climb to just above the clouds—the heavens, I presume. These cinematic journeys are accompanied by an opera orchestra and Jessica Chastain's narrations of spiritual philosophies.

Eventually we do settle down to one definable place and time: Waco, Texas in the 1950s. A probably typical family with the silent, reserved mother, and the strong, cruel father and their three sons behaving in a destructive manner as young boys do. Interestingly, we knew most of this before we were really introduced to them all based on a few early, near-silent scenes with the three leads, the father (Brad Pitt), the mother (Jessica Chastain) and their eldest son (Sean Penn), and with some subtle implications from the filmmaker.

Some shots were clear references to birth, death and the smallness of mankind in the universe. I was beginning to assume that it would be like "Synecdoche, New York" but without defying the logic or boundaries of time-scales. When we then went back to meet some dinosaurs, my theory was clearly shot. There is even less structure to the story. Here, you're just supposed to be enveloped by the magnitude of everything on the screen.

I was able to pick up on a few visual metaphors and could at least provide myself with a little meaning, but that's probably the most I could hope for. Such is life.