June 4, 2011 at 11:34 am #34336
A review from Roger Ebert:The Tree of LifeBY ROGER EBERT / June 2, 2011Cast & Credits
Fox Searchlight presents a film written and directed by Terrence Malick. Running time: 138 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material).
Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree of Life” is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other film I’ve seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and it lacked Malick’s fierce evocation of human feeling. There were once several directors who yearned to make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few. Malick has stayed true to that hope ever since his first feature in 1973.
I don’t know when a film has connected more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of “The Tree of Life” reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me. If I set out to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick’s gift, it would look so much like this. His scenes portray a childhood in a town in the American midlands, where life flows in and out through open windows. There is a father who maintains discipline and a mother who exudes forgiveness, and long summer days of play and idleness and urgent unsaid questions about the meaning of things.
The three boys of the O’Brien family are browned by the sun, scuffed by play, disturbed by glimpses of adult secrets, filled with a great urgency to grow up and discover who they are.
I wrote earlier about the many ways this film evoked my own memories of such time and place. About wide lawns. About a town that somehow, in memory, is always seen with a wide-angle lens. About houses that are never locked. About mothers looking out windows to check on their children. About the summer heat and ennui of church services, and the unpredictable theater of the dinner table, and the troubling sounds of an argument between parents, half-heard through an open window.
Watching the film, I remembered Ray Bradbury’s memory of a boy waking up to the sound of a Green Machine outside his window — a hand-pushed lawnmower. Perhaps you grew up in a big city, with the doors locked and everything air-conditioned. It doesn’t matter. Most of us, unless we are unlucky, have something of the same childhood, because we are protected by innocence and naivete.
As I mentioned the O’Brien family, I realized one detail the film has precisely right: The parents are named Mr. O’Brien and Mrs. O’Brien. Yes. Because the parents of other kids were never thought of by their first names, and the first names of your own parents were words used only by others. Your parents were Mother and Father, and they defined your reality, and you were open to their emotions, both calming and alarming. And young Jack O’Brien is growing, and someday will become Mr. O’Brien, but will never seem to himself as real as his father did.
Rarely does a film seem more obviously a collaboration of love between a director and his production designer, in this case, Jack Fisk. Fisk is about my age and was born and raised in Downstate Illinois, and so of course knows that in the late ’40s, tall aluminum drinking glasses were used for lemonade and iced tea. He has all the other details right, too, but his design fits seamlessly into the lives of his characters. What’s uncanny is that Malick creates the O’Brien parents and their three boys without an obvious plot: The movie captures the unplanned unfolding of summer days, and the overheard words of people almost talking to themselves.
The film’s portrait of everyday life, inspired by Malick’s memories of his hometown of Waco, Texas, is bounded by two immensities, one of space and time, and the other of spirituality. “The Tree of Life” has awe-inspiring visuals suggesting the birth and expansion of the universe, the appearance of life on a microscopic level and the evolution of species. This process leads to the present moment, and to all of us. We were created in the Big Bang and over untold millions of years, molecules formed themselves into, well, you and me.
And what comes after? In whispered words near the beginning, “nature” and “grace” are heard. We have seen nature as it gives and takes away; one of the family’s boys dies. We also see how it works with time, as Jack O’Brien (Hunter McCracken) grows into a middle-aged man (Sean Penn). And what then? The film’s coda provides a vision of an afterlife, a desolate landscape on which quiet people solemnly recognize and greet one another, and all is understood in the fullness of time.
Some reviews have said Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt, crew-cut, never more of a regular guy) is too strict as a disciplinarian. I don’t think so. He is doing what he thinks is right, as he was reared. Mrs. O’Brien (the ethereal Jessica Chastain) is gentler and more understanding, but there is no indication she feels her husband is cruel. Of course children resent discipline, and of course a kid might sometimes get whacked at the dinner table circa 1950. But listen to an acute exchange of dialogue between Jack and his father. “I was a little hard on you sometimes,” Mr. Brien says, and Jack replies: “It’s your house. You can do what you want to.” Jack is defending his father against himself. That’s how you grow up. And it all happens in this blink of a lifetime, surrounded by the realms of unimaginable time and space.
4/4 starsJanuary 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm #34338
It’s a shame this film has been vastly ignored. I’m by no means a real writer. But this film made me run home and write the following when I saw it last year (I believe I shared this in another thread, but just wanted to share my thoughts again). I hope it at least gets nominated (if it were up to me, it would win Best Picture, for I find that it only grows in its beauty and poignancy the more it is watched). I also find that people who “hate” this film are just too jaded to live.
Song of Malick
“I hear and behold God in every object,” Walt Whitman once wrote, “yet understand God not in the least.” Terrence Malick’s bold new masterpiece, The Tree of Life – the best film of the year and, so far, of this millennium – poses and expounds upon the same sentiment. Composed of breathtaking visual brushstrokes and infused with just as much temperance, poetry and grace, the film unspools like the cinematic equivalent of Whitman’s own magnum opus, Song of Myself.
Opening with a shot of a black and vacuous space, presumably before the formation of the universe as there are no stars, suns or planets to speak of, darkness soon gives way to something of a cosmic flame – a Divine Rorschach – which suggestively shifts and morphs in tandem with the lull of a distant yet strangely familiar voice. “There are two ways through life,” the voice promises, “the way of nature and the way of grace.”
What unfolds afterwards is a brilliant display of ethereal impressionism and stark realism; a journey through the ever-shifting microcosms and macrocosms that unfold within and around us all; a magisterial juxtaposition, if you will, of the origins of life (and perhaps the end of it, as well) and the ultimate attainment of grace. Malick’s attention to detail in delving into the aforementioned echoes something else Whitman once wrote: “I do not call one greater and one smaller. That which fills its period and place is equal to any.”
Many of the reviews I have read for this film claim that it lacks a coherent plot. I disagree. Although a detailed review could never do this film justice – it warrants an extensive and thoughtful analysis – the plot is easily laid out as follows:
We see the creation and evolution of the whole of life interspersed with the creation and evolution of one infinitesimal man’s life, Jack O’Brian. The film sees Jack both through his youth, during the 1950’s, and as a middle-aged man in the present day. Early on in the film, a tragedy befalls Jack and his family and before we can know for certain the details of the tragedy we are thrust back to a time before it, to the onset of Jack’s life, from whence we follow him through all of his pivotal prepubescent discoveries. As a middle-aged man, we bear witness to Jack as he grapples with the burden of both his memories and the elusive tragedy that befell him and his family so long ago.
The parents, from what I gathered, are meant to represent nature and grace, respectively, as spoken of at the onset of the film while Jack, in the end, is meant to represent the existentialist in us all.
The rest should be left up to the viewer to decide, interpret, analyze and simply revel in. The production values are top-notch and the performances are all sublime. As the father, Brad Pitt is solid and stoic and never veers into caricature. Jessica Chastain is an iridescent revelation. As the young Jack, Hunter McCracken is another revelation, conveying acres of pain and maturity just brimming beneath the surface. Sean Penn is exquisite.
In a day when our society is obsessed with everything and anything that can be said, read or watched – we have an awful habit of blogging, tweeting and youtubing everything – The Tree of Life is both a refreshingly quiet tour de force and an enlightening oasis that depends as much upon the viewer as it does upon its own story to unfold the depths of its meaning.
I will close by noting that Malick ends his masterpiece with a promise of grace similar to the one Whitman ended his own with: “Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you.”January 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm #34339
the movie is too much poetry. I love movies and I love poetry. with THE TREE OF LIFE, I discovered that I love them… separatelyJanuary 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm #34340
I like ‘The Tree of Life’, and I love certain parts of it. It’s impeccably crafted, very well acted, and gorgeous to look at, but I just could not get into the film 100%. I respect the opinion of those here that found the movie to be more than just a film, but an experience, and I too found parts of it to be moving due to it tapping into parts of my own life in certain ways. That said, the lack of a real narrative, the visual poetry taking over more than any sort of plot or typical structure, and the book ended and ultimately distracting scenes with Sean Penn kept me from loving it. I admire it more than I like it.January 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm #34341
This discussion is silly; there is poetry in every great film.January 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm #34342
The “Tree of Life” was bloated, indulgent, and rudderless.January 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm #34343
I didn’t read the review by Roger Ebert before I saw the movie but I agree 100% that THE TREE OF LIFE is reminiscent of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. BTW, Kubrick’s film is one of the greatest movies ever.January 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm #34345
If this tree gave life we would all be dead.
Meh.January 21, 2012 at 12:44 am #34347
But that’s the case with most Malick films, and it’s his greatest asset as a filmmaker. The visual poetry isn’t for the sake of shooting a pretty picture. Every image has a meaning, every angle a purpose. The visual poetry is so meticulously thought out and executed that it doesn’t distract from the overall narative, it enhances it. The depth of the imagery is what tells the story in one of his films.January 21, 2012 at 9:43 am #34349
But that’s the case with most Malick films, and it’s his greatest asset as a filmmaker. The visual poetry isn’t for the sake of shooting a pretty picture. Every image has a meaning, every angle a purpose. The visual poetry is so meticulously thought out and executed that it doesn’t distract from the overall narative, it enhances it. The depth of the imagery is what tells the story in one of his films.
I agree with all of this. Saying poetry shouldn’t be an integral part of a Malick film is like saying music shouldn’t matter to Scorsese’s sequences. Every director has their personality and work with that. Directors shouldn’t adjust that to other people’s sensibilities. People have to understand that when judging a film, you have to see how a film works given their intentions and execution within the concept.January 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm #34350
It seems Tree Of Life is going the route of Badlands & Days Of Heaven, no oscar love but a film that is revered and remembered. Though it does need to be said that oscar attention doesnt make or break a movie. Its all subjective just because 6,000 people say it is so does that mean it is, absolutely not.January 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm #34351
No, certainly not. So many of the , remembered films and for a variety of aspects have become iconic.
Time will tell, but for me, ToL is another effort in his sparse but amazingly beautiful, creative filmography.