The Tree of Life
Autumn 2011 Features series
Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 4:00pm
Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 7:00pm
Directed by Terrence Malick
Screenplay by Terrence Malick
Starring Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, and Brad Pitt
Rated NR ·
Tree of Life
From Terrence Malick, acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s. Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, the film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a difficult relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick’s signature imagery we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individual and families, but all life.
Roger Ebert’s Chicago Sun Times review:
“Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer “to” anyone or anything, but prayer “about” everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other film I’ve seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and it lacked Malick’s fierce evocation of human feeling. There were once several directors who yearned to make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few. Malick has stayed true to that hope ever since his first feature in 1973.
The film’s portrait of everyday life, inspired by Malick’s memories of his hometown of Waco, Texas, is bounded by two immensities, one of space and time, and the other of spirituality. The Tree of Life has awe-inspiring visuals suggesting the birth and expansion of the universe, the appearance of life on a microscopic level and the evolution of species. This process leads to the present moment, and to all of us. We were created in the Big Bang and over untold millions of years, molecules formed themselves into, well, you and me.
And what comes after? In whispered words near the beginning, “nature” and “grace” are heard. We have seen nature as it gives and takes away; one of the family’s boys dies. We also see how it works with time, as Jack O’Brien (Hunter McCracken) grows into a middle-aged man (Sean Penn). And what then? The film’s coda provides a vision of an afterlife, a desolate landscape on which quiet people solemnly recognize and greet one another, and all is understood in the fullness of time.”