Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life is an extremely ambitious film, attempting to be no less than a masterpiece. Luckily, it delivers in almost every form. A grandiose film that attempts to encapsulate the entirety of the human experience and life itself, The Tree of Life is beautifully filmed and magnificently told.
The lead actors of the film include Brad Pitt, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, though these stars are not the center of attention. Following the storyline of the main characters is not the aim of this film. Instead, The Tree of Life utilizes all at its disposal – music, landscape, color – to tell a larger story. The themes of this film apply to almost so many more people and stories than one movie could hope to contain. Instead of attempting to incorporate as much as possible, The Tree of Life takes on an almost minimalistic approach in the way it strips down human emotion to show what lies beneath. This is all done masterfully, seemingly not knowing its own implications.
The story that does exist follows a family in 1950s American suburbia. The homey suburbs of Texas become the backdrop for this patriarchal family and their tale. As the eldest son Jack grows up, he witnesses the loss of childhood innocence. This story is intercut with scenes of Jack during his more disillusioned adult years, silently drifting though a modern metropolitan world. Sean Penn plays the adult Jack, his wind-whipped face saying more than the lines he has in the film. He exists as a physical human in a large city working as some kind of architect, but Jack is also adrift in a variety of psychological landscapes, wandering across ice and sand.
Like an impressionist painter, Terrence Mallick swipes his brush across the canvas, creating a collage that comes together to form The Tree of Life. Aesthetically pleasing and intellectually intriguing, The Tree of Life is a magnificent film. Like many films made for the sake of the art, this movie is not for everyone. Some will wind it slow paced and anticlimactic. Yet when one engages with this film on another level, it is highly enjoyable. While not a bad choice, I don’t see The Tree of Life winning Best Picture this year. Perhaps it will win for cinematography or directing, but I’m not quite convinced that it is the very best film of the year, although it is certainly the most ambitious, and giving it an Oscar would not be a disappointment.