When I sat down to watch Tree of Life for the first time I knew that it was a movie unlike any other. I had heard all about the Oscar buzz and I had heard about other reviewers who felt that this movie was not at all Academy material. It will be a little while until we know how the Academy will treat this film, but Tree of Life is one of those unique movies that come along once in a while that does not find itself held down by the commercial world, instead it is a movie that the filmmakers, especially director Terrence Malick, develop to be more like a piece of art hanging in a museum instead of a disc sitting in a jewel case on the shelf. Some viewers may find Malick’s impressionist and transcendental way of telling a story painful to watch, but fans of his work will be swimming in his newest work of art. Tree of Life is a thought provoking film that will call on the critical thinking of its viewers to find their own meaning to the movie. Not only does Malick try to explain life, he even attempts to show it out right through his use of imagery of the painful natural world.
Tree of Life tells the story of a typical 1950s family living in Waco, Texas. Mr. O’Brien, played by Brad Pitt, and Mrs. O’Brien played by Jessica Chastain, have three sons and what looks like on the outside as a perfect life. Their lives are turned upside down by the loss of one of their sons at the age of nineteen. This loss has haunted one of the sons, Jack, played by Sean Penn, since the day the family received the telegram that their loved one had died. As an adult, Jack finds himself lost in the modern world, a listless soul who continually reflects on his childhood and his troubled relationship with his strict and sometimes abusive father. We watch Jack grow up from infancy and into young adult hood in a series of short vignettes. Jack, who is the eldest son, experiences all of life’s ups and downs from great joy to even greater loss. He faces the two sides of father from love to hate, while finding unconditional love and protection from his mother. Jack witnesses the reckless abandon of being a young child to the complete loss of innocence in his own family.
I found Tree of Life to be a beautiful and somewhat confusing movie. This visual treat will be heaven to some and hell to others. The first thirty minutes is a strange conversation that the entire family has with God while surreal pictures of the natural world flash by, including some footage with dinosaurs. The severity of nature compared to the forgiveness of grace is the central theme of the movie. All of Jack’s life is filled with this duality of nature and grace, father and mother, a loving God and a jealous God. Tree of Life is a spectacularly different film with wonderful and solid performances given by all of the actors on the screen. I am sure that Brad Pitt will be recognized in more than one way for his portrayal of Mr. O’Brien. Sean Penn gives his typical thought provoking performance that he has become known for. When you sit down to watch Tree of Life, please remember to be patient with this film. Do not rush to judge; watch the entire movie before you make up your mind. I have a feeling that you will either love this movie or find it painful to watch, much like watching grass grow. This reviewer found the symbolic and eclectic theme as beautiful as the natural images that fill the movie making it a breath taking piece of art.