The impressionistic story of a Texas 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. Written by
The butterfly that landed on Mrs. O'Brien's (Jessica Chastain) hands was not CG but a real one. One morning while both Chastain and Brad Pitt were rehearsing, Terrence Malick spotted it flying around. He got the crew and Chastain following it three blocks of Smithville, then got her to step into the middle of a street and hold her hand up. See more »
The O'Briens have a fancy ceiling fan with lights attached in their lounge room; these were not available in the '50s. See more »
[in a whisper]
Brother. Mother. It was they who led me to your door.
[choir singing dirge]
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Many movies have gone down in history as pushing the envelope, changing the way critics and audiences perceive movie making as a whole. Citizen Kane, Psycho and A Clockwork Orange are only a few to raise the bar on how effective a film can be on a viewer. Sometimes those filmmakers go down in history as visionaries, decorated time and again by journalists, historians and movie fans alike, but pushing the envelope can also bring about the opposite reaction. Every now what comes along is something that few understand and even fewer care to try. For the reclusive director, Terrence Malick, he doesn't seem to care which category he falls in and maybe that's the best way to play it. He makes his movies as a personal statement and they represent exactly what he wants to say, never mind what people want to hear. Lofty and admirable as that outlook may be, it can make for an incredibly risky movie-going experience. There are already heated words being tossed all over blogs and movie sites everywhere, so here's my two cents in the debate.
The Tree of Life is a visual and ethereal poem about loss, despair, God and the search for faith and reconciliation.
(I usually write much more about the basic plot of the movie for the review, but honestly, there wasn't much of a plot or story to speak of.)
From the opening whispers of narration, I knew that we were in for something a little off the beaten path, which in itself is not automatically a bad thing. Challenging the norm should be done on a regular basis, but that comes with its own risks. With only a few precious moments of actual characters to speak of, The Tree of Life launches into a 45 operatic display of the birth of the universe. Within the first few minutes I felt I thoroughly understood the director's point of view, which admittedly may have been wrong, but either way I definitely got what we were witnessing. The main issue here is there was absolutely no need to witness it for 45 minutes. While listening to a tremendously overblown and self-indulgent score, nearly a dozen people walked out of the theater in that opening sequence. After twenty-to- thirty minutes of something more akin to a Discovery Channel special on the universe, the audience began feeling like there was no point being made and an actual narrative story was nowhere to be found. I've made a promise to myself never to walk out of a movie, but I was dangerously close. I knew Brad Pitt and Sean Penn were cast in this for some reason; I was waiting to find out what that was.
Sadly, there really is no reason. There are a small handful of poignant moments from the various cast members, but they could never separate themselves from the poor cinematic experience or even truly showcase why they were cast. In the end I felt like any actor could have played these parts because each scene was only tangentially connected to the next, a feather-light spiderweb string trying to keep some type of flow or momentum, but it continually snapped under the hot air blown by Malick.
The real debate here is whether or not this even qualifies as a movie (or "film" for the pretentious). Even farther down the philosophical debate is whether or not movies are "art", which this piece clearly strives to be. For me, this would have made a much better impression and found a more receptive audience if it was screened in the MOCA or LACMA or any museum. It felt completely out of context shown in a normal movie theater. Some people will point to this winning the Palme d'Or at the legendary Cannes film festival as proof of its value and credit as a great movie, but I would pleasantly remind those people that it was also roundly booed by half of the audience afterwards, something only reserved for the most detested of films in the festival. The Tree of Life is being hailed by critics everywhere, who mostly can't put into words what it is about or why they liked it, but in turn reviled and railed against by audiences, who walk out by the dozen and request their money back (true story, happened in my screening and in each of the ones attended by friends of mine). If anything this will help remind movie lovers everywhere, don't listen to critics, including me. Make up your own mind, at your own risk. In the end we are all critics, just some are louder than others.
The End of the Page Recommendation: The Tree of Life wilts under the scrutiny of any audience not sitting in a museum or on hallucinogenics.
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