Tree of Life *****


Running time: 139 mins  Certificate: 12A

 

Synopsis:  On the anniversary of his brother’s death, an architect Jack O’Brien (Penn) remembers memories of his troubled  childhood in 1950’s Waco, Texas, with his  relationship with his strict father (Pitt) and caring mother (Chastain).

 

In just under 40 years, auteur Terrence Malick has only made five features within that time. Each one of these films has to be said are all exceptional with some of the best looking shots ever exposed on film.

 

For his latest film, Malick takes a personal subject (his younger brother committed suicide) and takes a whole new approach to making something which is slightly semi-autobiographical. It starts off with a serious of flashbacks remembered by Sean Penn’s character showing his earliest memories of his mother and father and the birth of his younger brother.

 

Then twenty minutes into the piece it ultimately turns into something different with not only showing the creation of a new life, but the creation of the universe and the big bang. With this follows a serious of stunning, bizarre and strange mixture of locations from galaxies, deserts and  prehistoric jungles. There is even a sequence involving a wounded plesiosaur lying on a beach, while another dinosaur comes along puts it’s foot on the neck of the other one and then moves on.

 

What is Malick trying to say in this sequence is unclear. Is it about existence or evolution or creation. One thing is for certain is that everyone who sees this film will have their own interpretation. 

 

Then we are taken back to Jack’s childhood and the relationship between him, his mother and his father. The mother figure provides the narration throughout, which ties in with the whole mother nature idealogy within the story. She is a kind, sensitive quiet soul who has to live with and endure her complex, bitter, disciplinarian husband. The couple are very much in love, but as the father takes more of his problems out on the children the marriage becomes strained.

 

Brad Pitt gives an astonishingly mature performance to his role and should certainly be considered for an Oscar nomination. Even although we as an audience tend to feel for the other members of the family more, there is some sympathy to be had for the father. The man has become disenchanted with his own life. His dream seems to have been becoming a musician, but he has failed in living up to that ambition and instead has resulted in working a mundane blue collar job. While it is not right that he takes his frustration out on his family, it is easy to see how he is feeling inside. 

 

The film has taken three years and five editors in order to make the finished piece. Mallick blends his stunning imagery with a mixture of classical music, which blends together beautifully.

 

While it is possibly Malick’s weakest film, in that at times it does not flow as well as it should and the ending feels like an abandoned television commercial. Tree of Life is also one of the most striking, well acted visually exciting films of the year. The movie will certainly split audiences, but given a chance is a very rewarding experience.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan 


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