Movies are movies and they have a purpose to do whatever the hell they like. They can either entertain, give you a certain reaction for or against the film, shock, inform a message, show off, it can do anything as soon as it achieves its goal. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is a little ambiguous and it's hard to know what it serves to its audience. Which is why it got the attention it got for both right and wrong reasons. The film can be seen into several perspectives from two spectrums. On one side, people see this as an ingenious piece of cinema and that we should admire him for bringing back God onto the big screen. The other side shows people confused and almost angry seeing a movie about nothing. I could see why this is a divisive film since it has little narrative or dialogue and relies mostly on its visuals but what would you expect this from the guy who brought us The New World, Badlands and The Thin Red Line.
One of the most highly anticipated films of 2011, Malick's latest film is marketed as a magnus opus and had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival winning its top prize the Palm D'Or while its stars Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are booed by the general public for making what's considered the most boring movie of this or any year.
To sum up the entire plot of the movie or tell what it's about is really hard because, as I said before, there's little focus of narrative and pretty much it is being told through visual imagery. As a whole it's about our existence and life itself, but if you try to break it into parts or fragment it, it's about childhood, regret, anger, family, the universe and... DINOSAURS!! The film starts off with the mother (played graciously by Jessica Chastain) Mrs. O' Brien grieving of their son's death through Funeral Canticle. It then cuts to Sean Penn as his brother Jack who is now an architect in a modern city notified by his death. Fifteen minutes later we see the birth of the cosmos and the universe itself. A quarter way through the film, we cut back to Mrs and Mr O'Brien (Brad Pitt) a married couple who has three boys. Mr O'Brien who is revealed to be an unsuccessful musician, is the archetypal military dad whose idea of tough love plays too much on the boys particularly Jack whose dislike for him grow as much for him. Mrs O' Brien apparently represents the graces of nature, coming entirely from Malick's perspective to say the least, opposed to her husband's forces against the three boys on the motivation into helping them become better men.
The acting is just impeccable. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain give marvelous performances serving as metaphors for the forces and graces of nature respectively. When they interact, they oppose like repellant magnets. Chastain is coming off high from a crop of films she's starring in including The Help, Take Shelter and The Debt, but in here there are many moments where she's at her brightest. Pitt has become a versatile actor filled with lots of charisma and this film is certainly one of them, but the child actors, particularly Hunter McCracken stands out as the younger Jack delivering most of the film's whole purpose including the journeys in childhood.
With all that said, it's not as flawless as I felt it should be. Sean Penn feels out of place as the older Jack who goes to every plain, it never really make any sense. As much as I admire Malick for exploring bigger depths about our existence, he sometimes get lost in its metaphoric shots and to me when I get confused to what is going on in this film, he seems to be waiting for us to yell out "WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!?!" in frustration. That's how The Tree of Life has its detractors calling it pretentious and self indulgent seeing how its out of place.
I watched this movie with moderately low expectations, seeing how it's one of the most talked-about movies for the right and the wrong reasons. I can see how people would hate this film since it has little plot and dialogue and felt that Malick felt completely out of touch with his audience. Movies are movies and can do whatever it want to show us. The Tree of Life displayed a variety of views that are based on the motivation in filming it. Was it to entertain? No. Was it to convey a message? Yes. But was it to show off God and his mighty powers? Maybe. For the 132 minutes of this film, I was never bored because I appreciated what he would do in his movie. But if you're the guy who wants to see ambition scoped in with thought-provoking, symbolic visuals and emotionally grand gestures or the person who is patient enough to endure a film like this and has a certain optimism to every movie he goes into, then The Tree of Life is your ticket to destiny. It shouldn't be a perfect film to praise or to mock because they contain certain qualities to be pointed out, sportingly admired yet some to disapprove of.