Terrence Malick is an extremely reclusive movie director who has only released five movies in four decades. The fifth, Tree of Life, began its monthlong run at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater today. The movie features Brad Pitt as a troubled father and Sean Penn as his estranged son (though in a different time period). The real star of the movie, however, is the cinematography and epic imagery shown throughout the movie. Tree of Life tells the story of a family in the 1950’s and the issues and struggles they face. It touches upon the characters’, and humanity’s for that matter, attempts to understand both their place in the world and in God’s plan. Each character struggles with their faith and humanity after the death of one of the sons.
Much of the theological struggles are represented through a character’s voiceover over scenes of vast landscapes, breathtaking views of the universe, displays of beautiful architecture and art throughout the world, and, at one point, even a scene involving dinosaurs. The film seems to show a view of humanity as a whole through the scope of a single five member family. The imagery focuses on life on a cellular level, to the family, to the vastness of space. It seems to show mankind’s place in God’s plan simultaneously as both insignificant and of the upmost importance. Beauty is shown all around us and emotion is displayed through the smallest facial gesture.
The movie itself features very little dialogue instead relying on the power of the visuals to convey its message. The dialogue present is extremely significant in displaying the characters’ personalities, doubts, insecurities, and personal struggles. Pitt and Penn are superb in their performances. Pitt plays a character unlike any this viewer had ever seen him play before: the troubled father. He perfectly embodies a father who only wants the best for his family, wants his children to succeed where he has failed, and wishes to raise them in a way which best prepares them for the real world. He is extremely tough on them and he realizes that as his largest failing. Penn does his best with what little screen time he is given. He plays the eldest son, eternally haunted with his brother’s death, questioning God’s plan for him, or very existence for that matter. He is shown attempting to reconnect with his father as well as mourning what is likely the anniversary of his brother’s death. His scenes are powerful and nearly empty of dialogue.
Tree of Life is a difficult movie to watch. It is very slow paced and can be extremely frustrating at times, but that is also part of its strength. It is a movie that is meant to be digested slowly and its topic is meant to eat at the viewer and cause them to ask the same questions as the characters. It is a very visually astounding film that will awe the viewer with its scope at times and bring them back down to Earth with its minimalism in others. Malick has truly crafted a masterpiece here. The film will have various meanings depending on the viewer and many will either love or hate it. This is not a middle ground film. There is little room for grey area. It can be a chore to watch at times, but the ultimate payoff is worth sticking it out for. This will be one of those movies that invokes deep philosophical discussions during the car ride home and onward. It is truly an experience.
Tree of Life is showing at the Belcourt Theater in Hillsboro Village from now until July 21st. Tickets are $7.25.
A trailer for the movie can be seen here