The Tree of Life suffers from being called a masterpiece too many times before anyone has the chance to see it. Terence Malick is a beloved filmmaker who is reclusive and only makes a few films in 40 years. The Tree of Life had plenty of rumors about its scope and use of dinosaurs. The trailer comes out and it’s beautiful so the anticipation grows. It appears at the Cannes Film Festival to glowing reviews, even picking up the Palm D’or. It feels like the backlash is going to begin before the film will be shown to the public. The problem is that the film is a masterpiece.
Here I am adding to the hype and misconstrued pretension. The reason why Malick’s film succeeds in being incredible is because it is pure. This is a deeply personal film that examines the search of God through moments in the life of a family. The film begins with them in panic. One of the three boys has died young. The parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) are devastated, as they feel burdened by the silence of God.
Tales of God usually have the characters experience joy or anger. Malick understands the relationship is a mixture and both are seen in an intimate and cosmic level. The questions shift as the film jumps around through time. Most of the time is spent when the sons are young, but Jack is also seen as a lost businessman (Sean Penn). The film also depicts some of the most gorgeous moments of the universe as creation is shown.
Beauty is everything in the moment. It is used as an extension of God as moments become art. There is a portion where it is questioned whether there is a God and the film’s argument is to show the wonders of the world. “How can this be without a God?” This is a spiritual film, but not one associated with specific religious symbols. Instead the film is like a prayer, a whispered prayer.
By itself the film moves like poetry, but through its messages there is a strong story at its core. The oldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken) is conflicted about his upbringing. His mother is kind and gentle while his father is more abrasive. There isn’t a plot with them, aside from an ongoing story of the father trying to make his way in business. Instead the film captures moments with subtly and grace. There are real bottled examinations of the human condition rarely seen in the cinema.
As praising as I am, this film is not for everyone. The lack of plot and its use of metaphorical imagery won’t be accepted by a wide audience. It is sometimes slow and difficult, but the film is satisfying if you trust the journey you are on. If you like the structure of Enter the Void, you’ll like this film. If you like how characters evolve on shows like Treme, you’ll like this film. And if you love Terrence Malick, you will love this film because this is what he has spent his entire life working towards.