I didn’t get it.
But then again, I’m not a huge fan of movies that are long on subtext, imagery and art at the expense of story, narrative and entertainment value. The mind-bending Inception managed to incorporate a bunch of those elements. But The Tree of Life is so deep as to leave you drowning in the abstraction of it all.
If you ask, “what’s the movie about?” – I’m hard pressed to answer. So I give you the blurb from the film’s marketers: It’s “an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through (director Terrence) Malick’s signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.”
Okay. I still don’t get it.
Anyway, for me, watching this film was like watching a National Geographic special on acid (metaphorically speaking of course). There are long, sweeping shots of environmental and biological images embedded in a slow, hypnotic classical music soundtrack, interspersed with the occasional burst of dialogue and what might – in a more traditional sense – be referred to as actual “scenes”.
Writer/Director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) isn’t the most prolific auteur, but he’s got a loyal following (particularly among those who like using the word auteur). He makes movies when the spirit moves him – every couple of decades or so – and nature is a recurring character. The Tree of Life may appease Malick’s fan base. And perhaps Brad Pitt will attract a few more bodies to the arthouse theater. But if you’re looking for a summer escape – or the cinematic equivalent of “beach reading” – then you’re barking up the wrong Tree with this one.
The film is rated PG-13 for ‘thematic material’ – not that anyone under 13 – or 18 for that matter – is likely to want to see it.