The Tree of Life (2011) Review

Time: 139 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien
Sean Penn as Jack O’Brien
Hunter McCracken as young Jack
Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O’Brien
Tye Sheridan as Steve
Kari Matchett as Jack’s ex
Joanna Going as Jack’s wife
Director: Terrence Malick

In this highly philosophical film by acclaimed director Terrence Malick, young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is one of three brothers growing up as part of the O’Brien family in small-town Texas. Jack has a contentious relationship with his father (Brad Pitt), but gets along well with his beautiful mother (Jessica Chastain). As an adult, Jack (Sean Penn) struggles with his past and tries to make sense of his childhood, while also grappling with bigger existential issues.

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Tree of Life was a movie I was curious about. I wanted to see a couple of Terrence Malick movies before seeing his latest film (Song to Song), so that I could get used to his style beforehand, so I decided to start with one of his most well known movies, Tree of Life. I expected to see an unconventional, arty film which is visually beautiful, and I really wouldn’t know how to feel about it afterwards and indeed that’s the movie I ended up with. I was left polarised and confused by the end of the movie but yet I think I like the movie. It’s very difficult to describe my experience with the movie.

Tree of Life is not an easy movie to describe, I think the best way to describe all this is to tell how I felt during the movie. This movie is unconventional to say the least. The first 10 minutes focusses on Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn, during this I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t really tell what was going on. 20 minutes in, there is a 10 minute segment which pretty much featured the universe being created (there’s no better way of describing it). It focusses on random aspects, stars, meteors, nature, animals, plants, even dinosaurs at one point. I was intrigued by what I saw but didn’t know what to really think. The rest of the movie for the most part focussed on the family (Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Tye Sheridan) as time goes by. At that point, I started to oddly enough like this movie and I was interested in seeing everything progress. After the family segment, I’m not really sure what to think of the movie, I don’t even know what the ending was supposed to mean and represent. I don’t really know what this movie is about (apart from life). The movie does have a lot of monologues throughout the movie, though I didn’t find myself picking up on what they were meaning. I can see how other people would be bored of the movie, it is very slow paced. I only really started being fully engaged after 30 minutes into the movie. But yet there is something about it that I liked, I haven’t yet figured out what it is.

This movie has a lot of talented actors with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn and Tye Sheridan. They are all pretty good, with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain being the stand outs as the parents of the family. Even when they aren’t saying anything, it’s easy to see how they feel in certain situations just through their expressions and reactions. Sean Penn doesn’t really get to do much, most of his limited screentime is him just walking around while Terrence Malick follows him around with a camera. With that said, this happens with every actor, a lot of the movie at times just follows the actors/characters around with them having no dialogue and not doing anything that important. I’m guessing that this is what happens with every actor in Terrence Malick movies.

One thing that all people who see this movie will say is that Tree of Life looks absolutely beautiful. Every shot is framed well and looks magnificent. Even the 10 minute ‘creation segment’ was beautiful. I couldn’t tell always what the shots of certain aspects were supposed to represent, but they looked beautiful at the very least. And plus, a lot of the time Malick manages to make the audience feel emotions through his imagery. The only thing directionwise that’s off was a scene with dinosaurs, the CGI looked incredibly fake, embarrassingly bad, and it kinda takes you out of the movie. The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat was great and really added to the movie.

Tree of Life is not an easily accessible movie. There are a lot of people who really don’t like this movie and find it to be pretentious and boring and I don’t really blame them for thinking this. Tree of Life is different, it’s slow, it’s unconventional. But if you are willing to give it a shot, I recommend watching it. Just know what you are going in for. I myself am not sure about what I had watched but I liked it at a point, it’s difficult to describe why. I get the feeling that Malick’s films are meant to make people feel emotions rather than it be technically good like most movies, not conventionally anyway. I know this review hasn’t been very descriptive of the movie, but honestly that goes to show how unusual of a movie this is.

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