There are few films that completely break away from the normal standards of film anymore. The majority today tell a story linearly with a conflict and ultimately resolution. However The Tree of Life strays away from those conventions and instead jars audience attention through its non-linear story and lack of overall conflict. The film follows a deeply devout 1950s suburban family in Texas. It is revealed in the opening scene that one of Mrs. O’Brien’s (Jessica Chastain) three sons has died. The film then follows how she and her husband Mr. O’Brian (Brad Pitt) deal with the death as well as how her son Jack (Sean Penn) is still affected by it in his later years.
The Tree of Life is not what you expect it to be, or if you’re a Terrence Malick fan maybe it is. It’s hands down one of the most intriguing movies I’ve ever seen and I’m still searching my head to figure the entire experience out. It has elements of an experimental art-house Koyannisqatsi influenced film as well as the theme of existentialism similar to The Fountain, but also caters to the human experience and raises questions like ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ also explored in A Serious Man. Yet The Tree of Life is completely new and unique and impressive in its delivery, telling a story in a way that hasn’t been done since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Screw Moon, The Tree of Life is the only film to compete with what 2001: A Space Odyssey did.
The Tree of Life is without a doubt one of the most original films to come out in decades. It’s more of an art piece than a story but it’s captivating and hard to look away from the O’Brien family. Filmed with a hand-held camera, Malick heavily uses tight close-ups and quick movements to follow whichever character is captured at the time, allowing us to feel like more of an active participant observing the family than just a fly on the wall. Devout in their beliefs, voiceovers from each character allow viewers to become aware of the questions that began to arise within them, questioning the notion of God and his ways much like the book of Job in which Malick gets much of its inspiration. Answers aren’t given however, making us think and debate even more throughout and after the movie.
You kind of wish you were part of their family for a second.
Malick’s visual eye is stunning and he captures some truly breathtaking shots. In a montage of the universe Malick uses technology to its fullest ability by taking images only captured through the Hubble telescope and giving them life and depth, emphasizing the beauty and magnificence of the universe. At times I forgot that I wasn’t watching Planet Earth and was watching an actual film about a family instead.
You think that’s beautiful? Wait till you see what Terrence Malick does with it.
This beer depends on what you expect from a film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. The Tree of Life in a nutshell is an art-house film that raises many questions throughout but never answers them. Because of its non-linear plot structure, it may be hard to follow for some viewers. The story is not told in chronological order and the editing allows much of the film to move quickly from shot to shot in order to pass time as we watch Jack grow from a child to an adolescent. The introduction of the family’s life doesn’t even begin until almost an hour in and a good chunk of the film is spent on merely visuals of the cosmos and natural wonders of Earth as opposed to story. Regardless, The Tree of Life is a beautiful film and aesthetically very impressive and fresh. My only gripe was that for two hours viewers are welcomed into the home of this family and we see in painstaking detail nearly every aspect of their lives, yet we are still never revealed key elements of the story.
The Tree of Life is definitely a film of its own accord and will draw you in whether you understand it or not. The performances are great, the directing is unique, and the visuals are astounding. It may not be your cup of tea if films that don’t follow the typical linear storytelling method aren’t your thing, but it’s a film that’s worth seeing and contemplating your own beliefs with.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: every time a shot completely blows your mind.
Take a drink: every time the focus is space.
Take a drink: every time you lose your place in the story.