[Review] The Tree of Life


I was curious about this film after hearing the buzz from Cannes and this year’s Academy Awards.  Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) feels lost in the present day.  He has an argument with his father (Brad Pitt) over the death of his brother, R.L.  Back on that day, we see Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) receiving a telegram to inform her about the death of her son, R.L., at the age of 19.  When he sees a tree being planted in front of a building, he begins to reminisce about his youth in the 60’s.

It’s important to note that the movie is pretty abstract.  We see snippets of their life in the past and present day.  Then Terrence Malick relates the story about the family with how life is formed and changed within nature.

I have to admit, you have to pay attention to the film.  It’s visual and doesn’t contain too much dialogue.  The characters are often seen reflecting over their lives.  The cinematography is quite beautiful as they show the every day life of the O’Brien family, through all their ups and downs.

Mr. O’Brien is the strict authoritarian while Mrs. O’Brien is the gentle nurturer.  They are a very traditional, Christian-American family.

As a young Jack (Hunter McCracken) grows older, he becomes aware of how abusive his father can be.  We see hints of Jack’s rebellious nature as a way of lashing out at his parents.  He is angered that his father easily loses his temper and that his mother accepts the behavior.

However, the film also shows us the parents’ perspective as well. While Mr. O’Brien can be pretty strict, he struggles with trying to be a loving parent and preparing his boys to become men in this cruel world.

Mr. O’Brien also struggles with the fact that he became an engineer in order to make money instead of pursuing music.  Jack becomes jealous of R.L. because of his natural talent for music and art and that his parents seem to pay more attention to R.L. because of it.

When Mr. O’Brien takes a long business trip, Jack begins to explore a darker side of himself as he breaks into a neighbors house to steal her nightgown or commits acts of vandalism and animal abuse.  However, these are just snippets of the growing pains of adolescent life.

This film isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  In fact, a lot of people may find it boring.  It’s pretty ambitious as it is tries to incorporate all of existence and relay it through this one average family.  What is a person’s place in the grand scheme of life?  Oy, that’s quite a difficult subject to talk about, let alone to explore in a single film.

The film philosophizes about spiritual transcendence that’s going to turn many people off.  I think a lot of people will find the film preachy and pretentious.  I did find the subject matter of the film to be quite fascinating.  Exploring the O’Brien family life in the 60’s from early marriage to their first baby to the boy’s adolescence was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.  However, I’m not sure what to make of the ending or how I’m suppose to feel about it.  It kind of leaves you hanging which is okay but emotionally I couldn’t connect with it.  I think the film tries to do so much, so abstractly in the span of about a 2-hour film.



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