Review- The Tree of Life

Release: May 27, 2011

Director: Terrence Malick

Writer: Terrence Malick

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Jackson Hurst, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Hunter McCracken, Dustin Allen











Seldom does a movie encapsulate you in the breadth of its imagination, the monstrosity of which can never be really put down in words. There are movies that are clever and are so subtle that you need revisions to understand the complexity of the plot. There are other movies where you are equally expected to be clever because there is no plot. Such movies are in effect an assimilation of imagery so vivid and gigantic that you find yourself reeling under its constant thrust. It does not leave a hole in your heart with its tragic depictions, it does not leave you confounded even if you could only scratch the surface in terms of understanding what the craftsman set out to accomplish- what it does however is leave you with a heavy mind. The music doesn’t help either- placed throughout the movie and encompassing every second of it the crescendo and the troughs shake your senses to the core.

Terrence Mallik, in only his seventh movie in a career that spans 4 decades sets out on an ambitious overdrive to cast his thoughts onto the screens. Filmed through the prism of a typical family in sub-urban Texas, the film traces evolution, the big bang, existence and sustenance in a hitherto un-chartered fashion. Through vignettes of dreams, travels back and forth through space and time, thoughts spilled out from an ensemble of characters the two and a half hour epic leaves everything to decipher for the audience.

Comparisons to 2001 is inevitable, not because they share the same special effect director, not because the breadth of imagination each demonstrates is confounding but more so because each deploys same technique to grasp your attention and the after-effects of each is but the same- a heavy heavy mind that seems to have been pushed to a stone-walled premise. So, if it was the chimpanzees dancing around the monolith that pushed you to the brink or the cosmic inter-planetary movements and the volcanic eruptions that befuddled you, the take away remain the same.

A crew-cut Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien stars in a contrasting role, assaying that of a disciplinarian, abusive and authoritative father with not a tempered display of affection. Some critics have argued its a villainous role while some have described it as your quintessential father who has to play the role of bad cop to prepare his kids out into the rough rough world. Howsoever you see, which believe me could be quite a few, Pitt does full justice to the role and his fits of anger, frustration and affection comes easy.

Parallels are drawn between lives spanning millions of years, cosmic occurrences with family dining table dramas and human emotions with natural grandeur. The eldest son of the family who grows up to be Sean Penn, the middle aged professional whose dreams are mostly what the film depicts is I believe the strongest and best developed character. Each emotion, which is universal to the phenomena of growing up is elucidated- irritation, love, coming to terms with death, sibling quibbling every stage of growth in a man’s life is visualized through gushing meadows, gigantic waterfalls, solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions.

In one of the scenes, when the children ask the mother to tell them a story from far before, she takes them to a plane ride that was her graduation present. In the very next scene, the imagery is that of the mother floating besides the tree, hands flying and waving. The whole process of birth is depicted through the kid opening the door of an under-water room and swimming with his mother towards the open air. In flashes, the scenes are recreated every now and then, in flashes your eyes widen and pupils contract.

It is an experience more than a plot. Through awe-inspiring visuals the film showcases birth, growth, evolution, emotion, death and after-life. Some critics have derided the non linear style of narration and randomly placed scenes. Its also termed an obsessive self pleasing project. I would not go down that road. Watch it not for entertainment, not for education but for the sheer magnificence of imagination.


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