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
Sheesh... skip all the other reviews. Just read this.
I've just wasted my time reading 20 IMDb reviews for "Tree of Life", both love-its and hate-its. They might as well be telling you how they feel about the colour blue. Subjective, subjective, subjective.
So let's try something different. I'm not going to tell you whether I loved or hated this movie. I'm just going to tell you what to expect. Without either praising or disparaging this film, I'd describe it as being a mix of Fellini, Kubrick, IMAX and "Stand by Me".
This film is presented in 4 distinct acts, each lasting between 30-45 mins. The acts are very disjoint, and although they are woven together by common thematic elements, the experience can be very disorienting. The director seemed to pattern this film after Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" with its 4 contrasting sections.
Act 1: Setting. The film begins with a peek into the life of a 1950s American family that suffers a tragedy. It leaps forward and back in time, setting up the individual characters and their roles in the drama. Though presented in a very fragmented way, this part should be easy enough to follow.
Act 2: Tone. The next sequence, lasting about 30 minutes, is a very impressionistic journey through space, time and evolution. Be prepared. There may be a few voice-overs, but otherwise it's completely without dialogue, actors or events. The best way to describe it is to say it's like an IMAX film with the narration turned off. It's somewhat reminiscent of the "acid trip sequence" at the end of "2001".
Act 3: Plot. After that, we return to the 1950s. This 3rd sequence makes up the body of this film. Having established the setting & tone, the director gives us a story (more or less). It's presented in a series of vignettes focusing mostly on the love-hate relationship between a boy and his father. This mirrors the love-hate relationship that each character has with goodness. Both the father & son are jerks struggling to become good, each in his own way. This portion of the film reminded me of a dark, disturbing version of "Stand By Me".
Act 4: Conclusion. We return to another impressionistic sequence, this time including the main characters and short bits of dialogue & voice-overs. To some of the audience it may give closure & satisfaction. To others, it may just plain suck.
For the sake of presenting an objective review, I'll withhold my own opinion. But I did want to mention some of the reactions I observed in the theater and in the parking lot afterwards. In an audience of about 100, I saw 4 people walk out. (Well, 5, but I think that guy just spilled lemonade on himself.) Most of the audience seemed attentive, but I did hear a lot of yawns and uncomfortable fidgeting. When the end credits came up there was dead silence as everyone filed out. It was pretty uncomfortable. In the parking lot there was a man who hated the movie so much I feared for my life. Seriously, this guy was about to plow his car through a storefront. Others praised the film's technical merits and cinematography but remained lukewarm, if not mostly negative, with their overall impression. Several people were intent on discussing the films philosophical merits, but this only infuriated the angry guy, so everyone just went home.
If I were to compare this to other films/directors, I'd say it's very Tarkovsky-like (Stalker, Mirror, etc). As I mentioned above, it's also much like Kubrick's "2001"--if you were to strip out the suspenseful parts about Hal and the Discovery. Perhaps it's also a bit like Wim Wenders' "Paris Texas" in that it wanders around a lot before coming to its destination.
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