The Tree of Life

The Tree Of Life

In Theatres: 
May 27, 2011
Running Time: 
138 min

Director Terrence Malick has also directed The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, and Badlands.

 It's something that has been discussed since words were spoken: Why are we here? Why do life and Earth exist? How did it all happen? It's familiar territory for everyone and territory that remains unanswered. Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) is asking himself these questions. But the only question more important than his own, is what brought Jack to question his existence? 

Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) is a father of three sons and keeps his emotions locked safely in his own body. With stern yet guiding hands, Mr. O'Brien has attempted to recreate his fathers' footsteps in parenting and hopes to prepare his sons for the harsh world ahead of them. Unfortunately, these boys aren't made entirely of grit and muscle. Their mother (Jessica Chastain) is a sweet, good-natured woman who allows the boys to enjoy life and embrace fun. These radically different parenting methods clash head on numerous times and cause young Jack (Hunter McCracken) to rebel against all authority and become a trouble maker in every sense of the word. Even at an older age, Jack holds little connection with both his parents and continues to struggle with his existence on this planet. 

Terrence Malick is a director whose name is well-recognized in the cinematic art-house world. As the director of The Thin Red Line and The New World, one would think Malick's new film would be well-recieved by the theatrical circuit. Especially with the combination of Sean Penn and Brad Pitt boosting popularity. But Malick's The Tree of Life has him going back to his roots with his earlier films, such as Badlands and Days of Heaven. For those unaware of his previous work, Malick is a man of gorgeous camera shots, thought-provoking visuals and layered themes. I'll admit, I was unaware of Malick prior to The Tree of Life. And in some ways, this enabled a great experience. Instead of a mainstream film showing just the basics of a story, Malick enjoys taking you back just a bit farther to the beginning of the world. Taking its precious time between volcanic formations and dinosaurs, The Tree of Life shows exactly how life on Earth came to be and what led us to where we, as humans, are now. These shots are breath taking. They are thought provoking. They are a little too "artsy" for mainstream audiences, thus causing a flaw for audiences outside of Malick's fan base. 

The Tree of Life falls under the category of vegetables for me: It's not as enjoyable as the junk we usually enjoy, but it's better for us. Malick's isn't a director who can evoke a singular emotion from you in little time. Regrettably, it's actually why this review is a tad late in arrival. I simply had no idea what I thought of it up until a few hours ago. Once the appropriate time has passed, however, some of the emotions created are one-of-a-kind and un-comparable to any other film in recent memory. The Tree of Life is a complicated, yet enjoyable breath of fresh air in a world of sequels and CGI animals wearing street clothes (squeakquels included). 

The acting is probably the most invigorating quality of The Tree of Life. Jessica Chastain plays innocence like a yo-yo. With her sweet smile and white dress, she could make even the most devilish of a child fall in love. That's what makes the clash between her and Mr. O'Brien so believable. The extremities of each character allows the audience to relate entirely with Jack's struggle. Brad Pitt is dishing out some of his best work here as a father unaware of his actions. Somehow, Pitt makes his rage seem parallel to parenting. Momentarily, that is. Once crossed, O'Brien destroys every smile within a mile's distance. Sean Penn does what he needs to. For an actor of his state, this is a small role for Penn. His runtime meets something close to a combined total of 10 minutes. But after all, the true nature of the story is what brought Jack to this life of struggle.

The Tree of Life isn't what audiences expect and in that lies the sheer wonder in it's message. Boasting incredible imagery, gorgeous scenery and convincing acting, Malick creates an emotional roller-coaster in why we struggle with our lives so constantly. Many fans of Malick's previous work will be happy enough, while new-comers, such as myself, will find much to love about this director's style. 

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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