Monday, July 4, 2011
The Tree of Life
This film is a masterpiece.
I do not use the word lightly. This film is a freakin' masterpiece. Terrence Malick is a revered auteur who has a rather scant filmography. This is only his fifth feature film in a career spanning 40 years. Each one is a deliberately paced, beautifully and masterfully photographed, poetic and introspective, one-of-a-kind piece of celluloid that enrage some and completely enrapture others and are considered widely influential pieces of American cinema. The Tree of Life is a culmination of what came before and dare I say, the highwater mark of what's to come after.
The plot, if you can call it that, is about a suburban Texas family from the 1950's composed of a stern father (Brad Pitt - embodying 'nature'), a loving mother (Jessica Chastain - embodying grace) and three boys (wonderfully played by newcomers Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler & Tye Sheridan). Sometime in the future one of them dies and the parents grieve and it seems to have affected the oldest son (played as an adult by Sean Penn) in his middle-age life in the modern day. Then it cuts into the film's most famous and controversial sequence, the Creation of the Universe. During my screening, this is where a group of people in front of me walked out. It is a beautiful sequence (made with very minimal CGI) but will test the patience of some people expecting something else. Malick tackles very heady themes with heavy symbolism that does not follow the linear three-act structure that most other films follow. It seems to be a vignette of memories cutting back and forth from past, present, future and into dream-like sequences.
Though I can understand why this will not appeal to some people, I can speak for myself when I say only a handful of films have moved me and affected me the way this film has. Yes, this film has great cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and much has been written by the wonderful performances of Pitt, Chastain and the boys. But deeper than that, by juxtaposing the joys and tragedies of this family into the context of the creation of existence, Malick created a film that's both very epic and intensely intimate in a way that I found poignant and it truly moved me spiritually and even religiously, in a way. People who are open-minded enough and can get past the slow pace and the unconventional narrative will take away different things from it, all of them equally valid. The film has so many complex layers, cinephiles, philosophers and theologians will be dissecting it for years to come. It is a deeply spiritual work from an intelligent man of faith who is gifted with the art of filmmaking.
Again, this film is a masterpiece.