Friday, July 8, 2011

"Tree of Life" - A Trippy Experience

This film is very hard to review.  It was like nothing I have ever seen before.  When I sat down to watch, I was under the impression that this was a film about life, death and our concepts of the ever-after.  I also assumed that these ideas would be presented like they are in most films, through dialogue and the storyline.  Well, it was...kind of.  However, the ideas were also presented in the form of poetry read over images of water, space, constellations, cells, and all sorts of other things that I believe represent the universe as a whole.  "Tree of Life" was written and directed by Terence Malick ("Badlands" "Days of Heaven" "The Thin Red Line") and stars Brad Pitt ("Babel" "Inglorious Basterds"), Jessica Chastain ("Jolene" "Stolen"), Sean Penn ("Mystic River" "Milk") who gets second billing even though he is literally in about 10 minutes of the 2 and half hours of film, and young Hunter McCracken making an incredible film debut.  One synopsis I read of the film is this:  "The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence."  He also witnesses verbal abuse and paternal rejection.  The film opens with what appears to me to be a funeral for the middle son who has died in combat at the age of 19.  Now, do not quote me on that.  He has definitely died but the way in which he died is only inferred by the telegram that his mother receives.  Jessica Chastain as the mother who has to deal with the death of her child is luminous in her grief.  It pours out of her and seems to make her glow with sorrow and pain.  The film then goes to Sean Pean, the older brother, but it is many years later and he is working in a high rise but is clearly still deeply affected by the death of his brother.  From there we spend the next 30 minutes or so viewing the images I described earlier interspersed with various readings and thoughts from Jessica Chastain.  I have to say I was becoming bored after about 20 minutes but it finally ended and then the real story of this 50's family was presented.  And boy, was it worth waiting for.  The images of the mid-West in the 50's are still etched in my mind.  Terence Malick captures a family in crisis beautifully by setting a mood that is lonely, stark and almost scary.  There is too much structure and precision expected from the father (as played by Brad Pitt in another fine performance) and not enough from the mother (played by the beautiful and moving Jessica Chastain.)  There are wonderful scenes of the boys at play and the birth of each child is perfectly rendered.  The first born is cherished and adored, the second is also cherished but it is much harder as now there are two children to contend with and all the jealousy that develops in the first child.  The third boy is almost over-looked when he is presented to the family, as if he is an afterthought.  From there, as they grow, their predicaments and roles within the family become clear.  

This is a beautifully filmed story and is well worth the price of admission.  However, I am still unclear as to what Terence Malick was actually trying to say but I would venture to say that he was trying to say many things and those things are going to have different meanings for each viewer.  Please comment back if you have seen this film.  I am very interested in hearing your thoughts.  

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