in Review

The Game of Life: Choose Your Destiny!

The Tree of Life

How do you solve an enigma like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? A film that at times is both beautiful and at other times incomprehensible. Though what can you expect from the J.D. Salinger of filmmakers? Arguably similar both in the mastery of their craft and their uncompromising reclusiveness. It’s in that vein that we may never uncover precisely what Terrence Malick is trying to communicate here, but we can certainly make our own valued assumptions. For the most part it appears to be a coming of age film not just reflective of youth but of mankind and our place in the universe. Possibly it’s trying to visualize where we all stand in the universe and the importance of things like love in the overwhelmingly vast scheme of things. There are times when it can try your patience moving at a crippled snail’s pace, but there are other moments as well. Several times I saw some of the most awe inspiring visuals I’ve ever seen in a movie and for that I applaud this film.

Tree of Life by it’s most basic definition is a movie about a typical blue collar family growing up in baby boomer era Texas. Brad Pitt is the family’s respectable but stern father and Jessica Chastain is the gentle and caring mother. Together the two attempt to raise their three boys as they experience all the triumphs and hardships of growing up. We see the boy’s; first steps, speaking, socializing, becoming dependent and even glimpses of rebellion that develops against their controlling and at times even abusive father. This is all intercut with the oldest son Jack as an adult in modern day (played by Sean Penn.) These sequences mostly entail a now disillusioned Jack aimlessly wandering through his own urban prison if you will, reminiscing about his childhood and occasional surreal imagery. Though for the most part The Tree of Life follows no real narrative, rather it speaks to us through visual symbolism and mostly religious themed narration regarding things like love and life.

One of the most stunning sequences of this almost avant-garde docudrama is where we watch the creation and evolution of planet Earth. Accomplished through the masterful effects work of Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner) we are treated to visuals that are better than anything I’ve ever seen done with common CG. Which is why I wasn’t surprised to find that Trumbull managed to create most of this sequence without CG using; chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography. Words cannot describe the kind of breathtaking imagery that he creates, I think it’s time for Trumbull to get his first oscar.

The scope of Tree of Life is so overwhelmingly immense that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it, which is why I’m going to have to cut this review short. To summarize my rambling, I’ll say that although Tree of Life can be dense and almost annoying with it’s lack of structure and lack of proper plotting, it’s a visual feast that is like no other and will perhaps live on as no other, at least until the next Terrence Malick film.