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. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.
A movie that wants to mean more than what is actually telling. Taking a lot of things borrowed from 2001, it doesn't even come close to have such a deep an interesting meaning.
Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is an attempt to inject some cosmic wonder into the most mundane American story. In the 1950s, two parents bring up three boys in an American white middle-class, small-town existence. The mother (Jessica Chastain) radiates love and warmth, while the father (Brad Pitt) feels the obligation to be cold and distant in order to prepare his sons for the cruel world that awaits them. As we are informed at the beginning of the film, sometime during this mid-century upbringing, one of the boys would eventually die. We are also shown flashfowards to the present day, when the eldest son Jack, now a successful architect working in New York City, reflects on the death of his brother decades ago. There is very little conventional spoken dialogue in this family drama. The story is told through voiceovers on top of a rich series of images, these monologues representing the inner thoughts, doubts and fears of the characters. But Malick adds something on top of this, one of the most controversial turns in Hollywood filmmaking in recent years. Early on we are treated to a depiction of the creation of the universe and of life on Earth, from the initial clouds of gas right after the Big Bang to small nebulae, then big galaxies like our own Milky Way, the Earth as an inchoate ball of lava, life arising in tidepools, and then into the era of the dinosaurs. These special effects were created by Douglas Trumbull, best known for the cosmic visuals of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The titles of the film quote from the Book of Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth, when the morning stars sang together?" I get what Malick is trying to do here, that is, to show that the trials and tribulations of an individual human life are part of some vast unknown plan. Nonetheless, while I can understand this on an intellectual level, the film does not seem to reconcile the two layers into a single coherent plot. The film is indeed a visual feast on a first viewing (a high-definition release watched on a projector is nearly as stunning as 2001), but the The Tree of Life is much harder to sit through on a repeat viewing when one knows that it doesn't quite hang together. Furthermore, as thought-provoking as the story of the boys' 1950s upbringing is, the last part with its scenes of petty delinquency goes on forever and should have been cut. Finally, the ending which I won't spoil here is a total trope, not at all a fresh take on the meaning of life. At a time when Hollywood is widely regarded as stagnant, I can appreciate a director like Malick who seeks to do something unexpected, but I find The Tree of Life to be rather a noble failure.