I’ll say it now before I go any further: Tree of Life is long – with a running time in excess of two and a half hours, and a story that drags throughout, it requires an enormous amount of stamina to be compelled past the first act never mind the entire duration of the film. BUT if you do make it through the beginning, congratulations and welcome to The Tree of Life!
As first impressions go, The Tree of Life is magnificent in its ability to present majestic vistas and magnificent cosmological occurrences. It’s really a grand spectacle and visual treat for any film goer. Beauty however can only take us so far. The fathomable premise for all intents and purposes follows Jack (Sean Penn) as he explores the depths of his mind to recapture the memory of his younger brother who had passed away during their childhood. From there we are taken on a convoluted journey from the beginning of time, through the prehistoric age (populated by unconvincing CGI dinosaurs), and finally settling in a 60’s era American Mid-West – just in time for the birth of Jack – which happens to be where the real movie actually begins.
Tree of Life is a glorious testament to life. It takes on a life journey filled with conquest and failure, and describes its utter fragility. Unfortunately the journey that is life, despite its many wonders, can turn out to be frivolous and mundane, as is the case with this film. The concept of the Tree of Life may have been to convey life at it’s most accurate and symbolic and director Terrence Malick achieved this at a cost. Due to the fragmented camera work and a barrage haphazard editing, I tended to disengage with the actors emotionally regardless of their solid recitation. Tree of life feels incredibly disjointed, at times lacking even a thread to tie the ambiguous plot together. To be completely honest, it felt as though the director had left most of the connecting tissue such as drama, charm, and suspense on the cutting room floor as well.
Performances from the cast are heartfelt and exhibit an honest energy that compliments the film. Brad Pitt (Mr. O’Brien) in particular portrays the archetypal “old fashioned” American father to great effect in addition to the child actors who play their parts incredibly well and carry their childish curiosity believably. The performances of the actors however are hampered by the constant introspective voice-overs. The voice-over work serves as the ensembles primary means of communication – a direction which frequently stifles the flow of the film giving it a noticeable humdrum pace.
As the curtain closed, I realised that The Tree of Life, while definitely an object of self-expression and breathtaking beauty masks the vanity of Terrence Malick. For some, art is created for the public and for others a pretentious labour of love. Tree of Life marches to the beat of its own drum, or rather, Malick’s drum.
The Tree of Life’s limited appeal, long running time and lack of the traditional entertainment value won’t provide the blockbuster experience that would compel casual film goers to sink their hard earned dough into a ticket. In fact, it’s possible that you might even leave the cinema out of sheer boredom and confusion due to its obscurity.
That being said, film intellectuals, unconditional art house fanatics, and people who are in need of spiritual enrichment may find the film to be a rewarding experience.
If you do see this one, be sure to comment on your thoughts – the film has had a lot of polarised responses and I’m eager to hear what you have to say.
Follow me on twitter @InTheKan – you won’t regret it!