The Tree of Life is one of those movies that everyone seems to really love or really hate. Writer/director Terrence Malick has come up with an ambitious and controversial film. Instead of a conventional story it is more an extended meditation on Life, the Universe and Everything.
What everyone should be able to agree on is that the cinematography is stunning. Every true movie buff will want to see this, if only for the beautiful images.
The narrator is Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn, played as a boy by Hunter McCracken) a middle-aged man still haunted by the death of his younger brother. Jack’s thoughts take us back to his boyhood in Waco Texas, with some side trips involving the creation of the universe and some sort of afterlife.
The main characters are really Jack’s father and mother (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain). Jack feels torn between the “Way of Nature” represented by his father, and the “Way of Grace” represented by his mother. The trailer gives the false impression that this is yet another story about a cruel, abusive father and a gentle, loving mother. Actually neither parent is perfect but both are loving and supportive.
Malick isn’t interested in giving us a conventional soap opera here. He’s trying for something much grander. In fact I’m rather awed by the audacity of what he’s trying to pull off. I’m not sure whether he completely succeeds. Each individual scene is wonderful, but does it really make sense taken as a whole? I think maybe I’ll watch it again on DVD a year from now and see how well it holds up.
But I recommend seeing it in the theater if you have a chance. As I said, the cinematography is awesome.