Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Tree of Life

Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

This film is brilliant, if it's your cup of tea. If not, I'm pretty sure you'd hate it. If it is, this self-indulgent slow mover is probably the perfect way to spend an evening. It has to be said, it was a little slow and a few people walked out of the cinema during the half-an-hour-long montage of artistic photography, and this was perhaps a little over the top for a film that was bound to be shown in all major cinemas due to Brad Pitt's surprising role in it; it would have felt more at home in a cellar-cinema with five seats.
The story itself, although central, was minimal and the majority of the conclusions were left to the audience to guess or to invent themselves. In fact even reading the copious reviews online there are some, to me, grave interpretations of the opening event and the core of the film- the death of a son, which is not shown in the film, is confused frequently with the death of a neighbourhood boy that opens the childrens' eyes to the reality of death and, for one (a young Sean Penn) deepens the dissatisfaction of the father/son struggle. Essentially the film is about nature, family turmoil, overcoming grief and most obviously- but not too forcefully- a belief in God which is questioned then solidified. It was, as I said, a little self-indulgent and at times it felt like it would be eternal, but if you're in for that kind of thing I suggest you watch it next time you have a hangover- it's something of a work of art.
It's massive- encapsulating meditatively everything that exists at the same time as focusing on the smallest details of one family's conflicting life. It only falls down where it attempts to literally depict metaphysical events, rather than alluding to and suggesting them- perhaps it would have been more effectively thought-provoking and poetic without the final five minutes.  In places it an Attenborough style observation of wildlife, it's walking with dinosaurs, it's the big bang, it's a father's first encounter with his son, it's the beauty of nature and the beauty of Jessica Chastain, it's birth and death- it's inexpressibly pretentious but profoundly moving and beautiful.

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