Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)


Grace... Nature.... Mother... Brother...

So starts Terrence Malick’s Palm d’Or-winning The Tree of Life. I’m sure words such as epic, ambitious and stunning have been levelled at this film; and to that I might add sprawling, as its scope really is huge. Not that this is a bad thing, in fact it’s really rather good. Admittedly, this is not a film that will be appreciated by all (or understood; I most certainly didn’t understand it all), but definitely worthwhile.

Red-haired girl looks out of a window in wonder... Sunflowers... Red-haired girl stands in a field of cows.... Her dad puts his arm around her and gives her a hug.

The film is essentially like a slide show, as if sections of celluloid had been spliced together. There are chapters showing different events, but there is no “story” as such (at least not a resolved one anyway). Generally the film follows the exploits of Jack, (the eldest son of three), over the period of one defining summer.

Big bang... stars and star dust and colours... geology.... biology... evolution... dinosaurs..

Perhaps this is Malick’s view on life. Take a typical day; breakfast, travelling to work, interacting with people at work, dinner, relaxing at the end of the day. If you imagined a 5 minute film made of this typical day, then all of these chapters could be seen as separate events with no specific coherence. This is exactly how Tree of Life is made; the scenes don’t necessarily flow together, (sometimes they do); they are just an insight into the life of this one family.

Sean Penn is grown-up Jack in modern day, somewhat lost in the world, thinking about his family, his relationship with his parents, and growing up that summer. As he gazes out of a window (instead of listening to a work colleague), it is through his eyes that we experience the film. Brad Pitt is the father (Mr O’Brien), and is torn between being an über-disciplinarian and a loving father. Jessica Chastain is Mrs O’Brien and is much more open with her sons and sees them as equals rather than adhering to the strict parent/child dynamic that Mr O’Brien does.

Red-haired woman on a swing... Red-haired woman plays with her sons... running... running down the street.

As I’m writing this I’ve come to the conclusion that I really did like the film. It’s taken a couple of days to try and decide what I thought of it; I really didn’t know where to start, but now I know where I stand. Like I said at the beginning, not the kind of film that everyone is going to enjoy, but if you get comfortable, take it as it comes, and be patient with it, then it is a rewarding film.

                                     There are lots of trees in the film too. Which is nice.