The Tree of Life

Beautiful cinematography for sure, however everything else was made pointless.

Terrence Malick jumped into the world of cinema with Badlands in 1973, based on the Starkweather – fugate killings it has soon become one of Malicks finest pieces to date. From here he directed the drama Days of Heaven after which he took a whole 20 years away from film making to return with the brilliant second world war film The Thin Red Line.

The Tree of Life  is centered on a family from Texas in the late 50’s, it tells the story of a families struggles of emotions for one and other and the eldest son falls foul to innocence and his father’s conflict with his mother.

From looking briefly into other peoples views on this film and the short hype it gathered on release it was clear that a large proportion of people struggled to understand the film. Whilst I might not have understood the general grandeur that Malick seemed to be imposing on the viewer, I do feel I gathered the general ideas. Simply put these general ideas are pretty plain to see, firstly and rather obviously its all about life (and indeed the many branches that one’s life creates)  We witness throughout the film the many strains of different emotions that one family goes through, and more specifically highlighted through the eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken and older Jack: Sean Penn) He see’s the lose of an innocent life and this causes him to go through the emotions (something I feel is also important to the film: Emotions) he suffers through grief and then hatred for his father (Brad Pitt) due to him being very demanding of his children. The mother (Jessica Chastain) offers the opposite of the father, she shows love and care for her children that the father hides behind his masculinity.

The main problem for me is the film gets in the way of a otherwise interesting strain of relationships and emotions by trying to be more than simply this story. By this I mean the way Malick has directed it, frequently we see shots forcing the message of symbolization for either God (low shots tilted towards the sky) or death or anything else that happens to be in life. These shots actually often look beautiful which is fine but we see them all the time and annoyingly during scenes of character development, making it all just seem pointless.

To further the previous point on character development I will try and give my opinion on the individual performances in the film, which is hard because as I said any development is cut short by the film maker trying to create a greater message. Brad Pitt has gone up in my respect for his acting ever since Se7en and is starting to show he is one of the finest actors around. Here he does not disappoint (as far as I was allowed to know) playing a father who obviously loves his sons but is also very demanding of them. Jessica Chastain is fairly new to me, this being the first film I have seen her in. Like Brad Pitt, she controls her character perfectly fine and had we actually been allowed to learn more about her I might have actually engaged with her far more. Sean Penn’s character is given some narration and then for the rest of the film looks thoughtfully whilst ascending lifts. With a pretty poor role he does perfectly fine and I’m sure it was pretty easy for someone of his talents. And lastly all the child actors are perfectly fine and especially Hunter McCracken who is the only actor that gets a character that we are allowed to actually engage with (though Sean Penn plays the same character he is mostly seen walking through different shots of symbolization)

Its the above two points for me that make this a difficult film to follow, had Malick avoided the overuse of shots specifically to give out different messages this could have been a better a film and one of genuine characters. Its been said by many but one can’t help but saying that ultimately because of these constant interruptions it is quite simply a pretentious mishap of a film that offers a plot but throws it away by whispering (literally at times) different elements of life at the viewer every five seconds. Plus at 2 and half hours it really does begin to get very frustrating, I like Terrence Malick films, just not this one.


You only have to look at the poster to see what I mean, lots of images of trees and the camera pointing to the sky, just blink rapidly at each picture and that’s the film, with just as much plot and character development:


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