Aside from its cosmic and prehistoric ruminations, “Tree of Life” is an epic visual narrative that tackles some of life’s toughest questions — the meaning of life, faith and death — through the eyes of a 1950s, middle-class Texas family.
Written and directed by Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line,” “The New World”), the fragmented film centers mostly around Jack, the eldest son of the O’Brien family, and his journey from an innocent child to an adult adrift in a modern world.
In the film’s opening sequence, Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) learns from a telegram that her 19-year-old son has died. The movie jumps to present-day, where Jack (Sean Penn) is an architect floating adrift in life. During a phone conversation with his father, Jack admits that he thinks about his younger brother every day. Outside of his high-rise office, Jack sees a tree being planted, and he begins to reminisce about his childhood.
In one of the most visually ravishing sequences to be played on the big screen, the film cuts to the creation of Earth, from single-celled organisms to dinosaurs, pausing in 1950s Waco, Texas.
The majority of the film focuses on a young Jack (Hunter McCracken) and his relationships with his family. His father, Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is a stern disciplinarian who struggles with expressing the love he has for his three sons. On the other end of the spectrum, Jack’s mother is a free spirit.
Through Jack’s memories, audiences witness his transformation from an innocent child to a trouble-making adolescent.
“Tree of Life” is Malick’s fifth cinematic offering in 38 years. It’s a visually memorizing and bold film, which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Despite its critical acclaim, the film’s loose structure and non-traditional narrative won’t appeal to everyone, and the film’s core message will speak differently to every viewer who watches it.
The film’s spectacular visuals are complemented by an orchestral score by composer Alexandre Desplat that is entrancing, and also takes visual cues from a classical score inspired by Pitt’s character.
While the film is breathtaking, the story is a slow burner, making the film’s two-and-a-half hour runtime seem painfully long.
“Tree of Life” won’t appeal to mass audiences, do yourself a favor and see it. You may not see anything this cinematically striking again.
“Tree of Life” comes to Blu-Ray and DVD October 1.