Terrence Malick is an enigma in the Director’s field. His range of material moves from mid-west American drama like Badlands to the classics of The New World and the war drama of Thin Red Line. That being said, Malick has a short CV directing eight feature films and writing twelve since he began in 1969. He is often regarded as in absentia from the glitz of the typical Hollywood lifestyle.
The 2011 release “The Tree of Life” is his written as well directing work and one could assume it brings elements of the director’s personal life journey to the screen. Visually it is a masterpiece from abstract cell to birth transitions and elemental earth and water pieces through to the camera circling contemplative 1950s characters as they absorb their environment. One of the conflicting pictures that typifies the movie is of young 1950s 10-12 year-old boys joyfully playing in a cloud of spray highlighted by the sun’s mid-afternoon rays. As the picture of joy drives past we realise the truck the boys are running after
is spraying the pesticide DDT to kill the mosquitos in the area and our perceptions are challenged.
This 139min epic is no popcorn flick. Be prepared to walk a lifetime in the characters moccasins as they interact in the dance of life and death. The life of ‘Jack’ is a pivot point as a son reflects on his life, his Father’s views on morality, work and death and the longing we all take of looking to our parents for acceptance. The ‘old Jack’ played by Sean Penn is one of longing, reflection and acceptance as he nears his own end of life retrospective.
‘Young Jack’ is also an anchor too for Brad Pitt’s character to foster his own struggles through the eyes of the 50s. Pitt is both believable as well as detestable in the role of the father, Mr O’Brien. He plays the aloof moralistic role well, creating a chasm between himself and his wife and children.
This is where Jessica Chastain bridges a gap in supporting her boys on the merry-go-round of life. Her almost ethereal character seems to dance from tragedy to triumph no matter how large or small. The boys rally around their mother while still reaching out to a distant father. It provides a stereotypical tale that you are drawn into yet feel there is no conclusion that would satisfy.
Ultimately “The Tree of Life” is art rather than entertainment. In many ways you won’t be taken ‘away’ from your life but rather the silverscreen becomes a mirror on your own life and journey to discover the Tree of Life and you walk away asking what are the unresolved relationships that have yet to be pruned.
4 out of 5 for the discerning movie goer.