The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life centres around the O’Brien family who live a small town in Texas in the 1950s. The film opens with Mr. And Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) grieving over the lost of one of their three sons at the young age of 19. Flash forward several years and the O’Brien’s oldest son Jack (Sean Penn) is dissatisfied with his seemingly charmed life and starts to reflect on his childhood in an attempt to better understand himself and his turbulent relationship with his father.
The Tree of Life is not a bad film per say just a disappointing one. Despite the two hour and twenty minute running time, there is only about 45 minutes worth of actual plot. The most interesting elements come in the dynamics between Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien and Jack. In fact, there really is not a need for the scenes of a much older Jack at work. The film would have the same impact had Sean Penn not been in it. Many have heralded the film as a visually stunning meditative piece that merges the questions of life, death, God, and childhood into one unique experience. While true in regards to the visual experience, it is the meditative aspects that really hurt the film. None of the questions or ideas raised in the film are new or unique. Anyone who is remotely religious, or has a vague interest in philosophy, has wrestled with these issues before.
The Tree of Life plays like “spirituality for beginners.” While the film is concerned with being more of an overall spiritual film than aligning with any particular group, Malick does quote the bible heavily. I had a déjà vu moment when Jack’s voice over utters in a conflicted tone “what I want to do I do no, but I hate what I do” as the bible verse from Romans 7:15 was part of one of the readings at a church I attended recently. What is interesting about the spiritual aspect is that it is not as subtle as one might expect from a film such as this. The Tree of Life really does pound home the ideas of letting go, being good to one another, and enjoying the small moments.
Maximizing the small moments is what The Tree of Life actually does very well. For all the grand thoughts The Tree of Life has, Terrence Malick’s film is at its most beautiful when it is displaying the simple aspects of life. Seeing Jack as a baby sleeping peacefully on his mothers shoulder instantly made me think of my own two month old son. Not only did the film make me think of my life now as a parent, but my experiences as a child as well. Especially in the ‘endless summer’ segment of the film, when the three brothers are outside playing and getting into mischief.
As mentioned earlier, The Tree of Life is, if nothing else, stunning from a visual standpoint. Whether it is a shot of birds swarming in packs, dinosaurs displaying dominance, or spirits embracing the afterlife, the film provides a sensory overload. It is just unfortunate that Malick did not provide more substance with the story to bring greater weight to the visuals. Again, The Tree of Life is not an awful film, but it did not evoke the same euphoric response out of me as it did others. I understand that the film offered many a meditative experience, but as a person who is rather spiritual already, The Tree of Life did not provide anything more than the same old philosophical questions wrapped up in pretty packaging.
The Tree of Life is part of our The Must See List series.