It’s this year’s best cinematic achievement to date. What Fantasia did for cartoons, The Tree of Life does for psychological sci-fi dramas. Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line) beautifully pieces together a cosmic blend of philosophy and mind-blowing images that easily make the flick a top nominee for this year’s Best Picture and Best Film Editing. It already won the grand prize (Palme d’Or) at the Cannes Film Festival.
Just from an artistic standpoint the movie wins major brownie points. Its first cosmic montage takes us through everything from the Big Bang Theory, to the first single-celled amoeba, to dinosaurs. It puts into perspective how our microscopic life on Earth has formed.
It’s a painting of deep-rooted philosophical issues that even Michelangelo would have a tough time replicating. He’d enjoy the challenge though because The Tree of Life takes nothing for granted. It stretches our very souls to contemplate our evolution.
The plot is hard to pinpoint, and that may be what turns some audiences off, but there is one, it’s just not as clear-cut as your typical narrative. The film opens with Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) receiving a letter that one of her sons is dead. This stems into the movies main question, which a voice-over contemplates throughout, “There are two ways through life, the way of nature (strength, will and determination) and the way of grace (love, humility and forgiveness.” Which will you chose?
Struck with the devastating news, Jack (Sean Penn) remembers his childhood (played by Hunter McCraken), and how he and his brothers wrestled between their father (Brad Pitt) who makes his own way, the way of nature, and their mother who accepts what is given to her, the way of grace.
The children naturally adore their mother, turning to her for saint-like guidance. Jack may hate his father, he may fear him, but in the end he becomes more like him. In actual time, he’s a lost soul grappling between faith and reality. What is the reason for his existence?
Jack exists, but he must find that which is greater than his fate – his spiritual enlightenment into heaven. We could even interpret the soft voice-over throughout as God is speaking through the characters.
“Life by life I search for you, my hope, my child,” said Mrs. O’Brien’s voice-over.
It’s aggressive, yes, but it’s mixed with the right amount of honesty – a cosmic sermon that breathes the words many of us find hard to push out. You’ll have to indulge Malick as he pushes forward the delicateness of the world’s authenticity, which eventually evolves into the love of our families.
The film will alienate, but that’s the mark of a truly distinct film. Black Swan comes to mind. But it will also give the audience a chance to rejoice. Souls and life evolve with a certain perspective of spirituality, and that’s all Malick wants to display here.
Watch the trailer here
The Tree of Life is playing at the Oriental Theatre at 4:00, 7:00 and 10:00
The Tree of Life**
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken
Writer-director: Terrence Malick.
Producers:Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt.
Running time: 138 minutes.
A Fox Searchlight Pictures release.
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