The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is certainly one of the most interesting and unique movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. Usually in my reviews I like to sum up what the movie is about in a line or two, but with Tree of Life speculating what its about seems to be the entire point of the movie. And it seems to me that this movie appears to be about everything.
Terrence Malick has a wonderful way of using a movie camera to romanticize whatever it is in the frame in a way that very few other directors are able to do. In the Tree of Life, Malick celebrates not just life itself, but all of existence. Whether he shows us the formation of the earth or a mom and her sons playing with a water-hose, or whether we are seeing hundreds of bacteria at their own microscopic level, we feel the beauty and power of this world in a very moving way.
The movie is not a typical narrative film. It does have a story at its core of three boys growing up in the 5o’s with their strict father and caring mother. But these scenes are juxtaposed with grand scale sequences which involving nothing less than the formation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. And I can’t help but feel that the story Malick really wants to tell is no less than the history of everything, and in doing so he is taking this small family life to use as a reference to show us our tiny part in God’s great plan.
We are first introduced to the O’Brian family in the wake of a tragedy which helps us to get a feel for these people and their problems. Then the film goes into a long genesis sequence where we see the sun and the earth being born and we watch life on earth evolve. We see the early ocean life and the age of the dinosaurs and the devastating meteorite which wipes them out. After which we cut back to the family.
I believe that what the film is telling us is that all of these problems that the main character Jack is having with his father and the other problems he gets into are really inconsequential in the big picture. By contrasting these problems which seem large to the individuals involved with the massive biological history of our planet or problems really seem small. In this context, having conflicts with a strict father really isn’t a big deal, because at the end we will realize that simply having the relationships and the love in our life that we had is really what’s important.
I found this movie to be very uplifting and powerful. The message behind it was challenging, but not so challenging as to lesson the experience of the moment. Visually, this movie was incredible. The cosmic scenes were flawless while the family scenes had a real down-to-earth beauty.
That’s not to say there weren’t flaws. To be honest, for as non-narrative as this movie starts off, I almost felt it became too narrative in the middle and that perhaps its message would have been better severed by backing off a bit on the Jack and his G Father storyline. I also felt like the scenes with Sean Penn as modern-day Jack were never really explained or brought to any conclusion or realization.
However, I must admit that this is a movie for which I believe my opinion of will change as I see it again a second or third time, much like Kubrick’s 2001. It may be that my opinion goes up and what I perceive as flaws now may be explained to me. Or perhaps my opinion will lessen with another viewing. With a film like this, its hard to say. But for now, this was definitely a film which I feel like I experienced rather than just watched, one which has me thinking about days after and which really pushed me to think about what parts of life should be considered important and whether or not life’s problems are really as big as they seem.