The Tree of Life (2011)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 4:32 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) - Terrence Malick

Imagine every nature video you have ever seen on Discovery Channel, in addition to those documentary videos you have seen in your biology classes. Imagine those Planet Earth videos and Blue Planet videos, roll it up into one alongside a metaphysical existential philosophical mish-mash. You get a wonderous ambitious film about life and everything that shapes life and all the mysteries of life. It sounds so abstract and experimental... but that's because The Tree of Life is indeed abstract and experimental... in a way.

The Tree of Life was known as one of the most popular independent films of 2011 specifically for its reception being extremely polarized. Though it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the film divided the critics: Some praised the film for Terrence Malick's artistic imagery and non-linear narrative, while others criticized the film for the same reasons. After its screening, it was met with both boos and applauses, then it goes on to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, in addition to being placed onto Sight & Sound's 10 greatest films ever made by sixteen critics. 

So for all of these mixed reviews, it came across to me as a fascinating film to watch and see what all the hype is about. Now that I have seen it, well, I guess you can say the film is like life itself. Some people love it and some people hate it (don't take that seriously). But for me, I am a huge admirer of the mysteries of life, all the existential questions we can ask in which we don't get any answers. Even though the film itself may seem too experimental, too slow, or too impressionistic at times, The Tree of Life fascinated me.

The Tree of Life chronicles the origins and meaning of life by telling a paralleled narrative between a Jack O'Brien's (Sean Penn) childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas and a narrative backdrop of the origins of the universe and the inception and end of life on Earth. It's not every movie where you get to see Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain alongside the formation of the Milky Way, dinosaurs, and the asteroid that strikes the Earth...

Everything that you have heard about The Tree of Life is true, regardless of who you heard it from, whether he/she liked the film or not. Both sides are right. The film is endlessly bold in exploring the cosmic scope of the world and the magic of life's existence, as if Malick is observing miracles every direction he looks. The key in this film is whether or not you see these miracles with him. If you do, you're on board throughout the rest of the film. If you don't, then you will lose it and I don't blame you, because this substance is something that not all can take.

The O'Brien family, which take up practically the majority of the film, is a thematically driven family in which the mother and father are metaphors of something greater in life. They represent ideas, and these ideas are all presented to you as you witness the miracles of life in the universe. Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) represents grace, in which she is forgiving, nurturing, and gentle, letting her children believe that the world is a wondrous place, worth exploring and admiring. Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) represents nature, in which he is strict and authoritarian, ordering his children to not call him "father" but "sir." He easily loses his temper, and he struggles to make peace with his sons, wanting to prepare them for a world that he sees as corrupt and exploitative. Both parents do what they believe is right, and the children slowly grow up alongside them. The best part about it is you don't know what the parents' first names are, just like when we were little, we only called our parents Mother and Father.

Malick carefully takes philosophical aspects of humanity and combines them with existential questions of life's meaning, and crafts a beautifully shot and artistically edited film. Though I am not too confident about saying this, but I do believe that The Tree of Life is in many ways, a masterpiece. The only other two films that have ever executed something this extraordinary is Cloud Atlas, released a year after this film, and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. In many ways Tree of Life and 2001 are very similar, in which it will only prove its beauty and artistic value to the most patient of viewers. As for the rest of the audience who demand something more action-packed, they will inevitably fall asleep, though I can say that The Tree of Life is a great film to watch *before* you go to sleep.

In conclusion, The Tree of Life is one of the most unique films I have ever seen, and many critics have a reason in saying why it is one of the best films ever made. At the same time, I understand why many people despised the dull, boring 2-hour long film that talks about life, feeling like it is 5 hours long. By the way, I heard somewhere that Terrence Malick originally had a six-hour cut version of the film. Despite the film itself being very experimental, extremely metaphysical, and unbelievably theoretical, it is rewarding only if you stop and let your mind wander into the magical places Malick already went when he made this film.

Lastly, I am going to say something that may be a very controversial statement, but I believe it all: The Tree of Life is a better film than 2001: A Space Odyssey. In agreement with Roger Ebert, Kubrick's masterpiece is indeed a bold vision, but it "lacked Malick's fierce evocation of human feeling. [This] 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."


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