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
In September 2018, Criterion Collection released the 189-minute extended version, which restores several vignettes and additional scenes. The additions are as follows:
When Mrs. O'Brien learns of R.L's death in Vietnam, there are more shots of her in the bed. After that, a neighbor's boy brings over some food.
There are additional shots of adult Jack walking around the office building including walking into a masked ball.
Adult Jack visits the museum. He is always accompanied by a woman, while he seems to lose himself more and more in the past.
There is an additional montage of adult Jack encountering shady characters before it ends of him sitting in the airplane in panic.
Steve and R.L look at the chicks that have fallen off from their nest.
An additional vignette of Jack and his mother, which establishes the insight of his activities including lassoing and weeding. Dad then checks on Steve whether if he has finished.
In the dining scene after that, Mr. O'Brien drinks from a bottle of Tabasco.
Mr. O'Brien learns of a mishap that befell his father.
Jack talks to the other boys about his experience with the three-legged dog while the children played with it.
R.L tells his mother that she's not old yet, then while mixing she accidentally mixes with her hand. Jack goes out to the lawn with his father while Mother watches from the inside longer.
The Uncle Roy (Mrs. O'Brien's brother) vignette is put back and his presence excites and makes the three boys happy. However Mr. O'Brien is not happy about his brother-in-law and unceremoniously kicks him out of the house because he makes the boys turn away from him. (Note: This is one of the two longest restored sequences)
Another vignette has Jack and his friend ravaging the latter's house. It is explained this was done in anger he was often mistreated and locked up by his father (an appearance by Ben Chaplin) - this sets up Jack's subsequent change of behavior. Next, a violent tornado storm happens whose devastation can be seen in retrospect. (Note: This is one of the two longest restored sequences)
Jack and his friends hurt other animals and even destroying other people's property.
When Jack goes upstairs, he stares at the bird cage briefly before continues through the floor until he reaches a room that catches his interest.
Jack creates more problems, even in school and even annoys R.L. This eventually leads to his mother having to have conversations with some of the schoolteachers, and she slowly begins to understand where Jack is heading.
When Mr. O'Brien returns, he has a conversation with Jack, aware of his behavior and describes his feelings of his sons. He reveals that he had hepatitis during his work trip in China. He then has a short trip to the lake.
Jack's parents eventually decided to put Jack to a boarding school and his mother explains to him her decision to do so. This somehow has him finding his inner peace in the subsequent scenes in the new school. It also made R.L happy on his own side too. In an additional short scene, his parents had one more moment of time together at the lakeside.
Several additional shots were added when Jack is heading towards the beach, which includes a girl walking among the ruin, people coming out from a building into the open space and more shots of anxious children. Later he is seen walking back to his house.
The closing credits includes additional cast members who only appeared in the new cut.
Tree of Life is an interesting experiment, some kind of a visual blend. It is a period film centered around a Family in the 1950s. The film depict a crucial time in Life of a boy (the eldest son), who witnesses the loss of innocence and the lack of control over his deepest feelings triggered it seems by the arrival of his new born brother.
But Tree of Life is also a variation over the meaning of Life and Death alternating between a cosmic vision of Life and a subjective and often poetic vision of childhood as an aphorism for Grace, Nature and Love.
The films then introduces the unbearable Death, the one that can't be explain the one that shakes the very balance of a Family, the Death of a son of a brother as we learn that the second born died suddenly at the age of 19 (probably at War).
However the genuine narration and enigmatic if not poetic vision of the cosmos mixed with state of the heart but virtual shots depicting how Life started (the way of Nature) makes for a slide-show of boredom. And as we move along the story of this family seems more and more like a "collage" exercise, some kind of a pretext to voice over cosmic images philosophical questions from our main tree protagonists (The Mother, the elder son and the Father). The result is messy and at times superficial.
In this blend of images and emotions actors aren't use to deliver an acting performance but more so to make the philosophical questioning move along. The problem is the questioning stagnates and closure never really gets through. Even if we understand that the border between Life and Death is as thin as a bank of sand between two seas on which we may meet sometimes, the audience is left with the same Belief before entering the Theater. Eventually you remain the same before and after the movie. You don't feel any more comfort, tranquility, clarity or even sadness. You've just seen beautiful shots.
Soaked with Christian Philosophy Tree of Life delivers as a very well shot film but never provides the audience with a sense of progression and closure. The story of this Family never really takes off nor does the Philosophic Questioning gets to an end.
At posteriori Tree of Life seems like an audacious idea on paper and lays out good material to explore. However the film ends up resembling a nice slide-show with little to no story, which makes me wander if cinema was the best medium for this cosmic Tale.
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