Directed by: Terrrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Produced by: Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill
Runtime: 139 minutes
The Tree of Life is about a middle aged man’s contemplation of life from his childhood days with his family composed of an authoritative father, compassionate mother, and playful brothers. His reminiscing of the past is interspersed with images that depict the creation of the universe and the first signs of life on earth.
With that being said, it is to no wonder that the film’s chance of getting nominated for best picture was very shaky. Its experimental elements sharply divided the critics and audiences alike, though it won the prestigious Palm D’ Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And looking at the film, it is no surprise that it garnered such divided reception.
The material itself is quite tricky – a film about a man meditating about life is already in danger of a bloated and self-indulgent pratfall in a film. It may have seemed pretentious to some, and it did come to others as such, but it was handled with such care and knowledge and understanding that what became as a result is a soulful and deep cinematic experience that is both spiritual and enigmatic at the same time. It is through the director’s solid and sincere intentions of reflecting about the whole grandeur and immensity of life that the film feels not only like an exploration of life’s beginnings and epic possibilities, but also a personal meditation on the meaning of it.
It is also due to this very personal relationship with the material that I feel that the director was able to fully maximize the potential of the story because he knows the entirety of the story – he pushes the limit of what can be told, and the crossover from the contemplative attitude of the writing to the moving examination of life is just an amazement to watch.
The visuals are stunning, and it is to no use. The fluid cinematography embodies the spontaneity of the film, something that makes the film very visually organic. The way natural lighting illuminates each scene, the way the smooth movement of the camera strengthen the graceful focus of each scene to the very core of the story.
The editing sets the film to a refined rhythm that perfectly captures the essence of each scene. Each cut is concise and no shot is too long or too short – there is evident knowledge of what must be shown, and in a film like this where many things can be shown, specificity in the vision is needed to channel the point of the film, and the editing fulfills that. Kudos to the good production design and visual effects for adding layers to the environment that makes the film a powerful observation of life.
The aural elements of the film are also noteworthy. While the sound work itself is very impressive, it is the strong choice of musical pieces that tie up the film’s themes. It sets the film to an enigmatic aura, something that makes the film both spiritual and mysterious. The level of spiritual pacification strung in the choice of music is essential in structuring the film’s dimensions and layers that becomes the film’s strength. The film becomes accessible and nowhere near alienating because the control of the flow of emotions is sustained, therefore giving clarity amidst the ambiguity of the imagery.
Brad Pitt has been recognized this year for his performance in Moneyball, but it must also be noted that his performance here is quite strong. Working on a character that may have simply been reduced to symbolism, the level of conciseness he invests in the character of Mr. O’ Brien defines his character with both patriarchal authority and paternal care.
It is also the case of Jessica Chastain, who successfully disappears into her role as Mrs. O’ Brien. Her character moves around the story with grace, but she is not afraid to let loose of the emotional baggage beneath the almost-angelic image. In the lack of words, she supplies her character with a warm resonance.
The film is a thing of beauty. The effect the film leaves is something unspeakable. It throws away any moment of hesitation and its conviction to tell this daring and nuanced examination of life, on how colossal it is and on how small moments define one’s very existence. The film goes down to the spirit and meaning of life, and the film does not dictate it; the film lets one to witness and experience the contemplation and let one think about it. What a brilliant film.
For this, the film gets:
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