Unfortunately, my first bout with Terrence Malick was trying to watch ‘The New World‘ at 1 AM on a non-stop flight from Dallas, Texas to London, England. The movie itself was so boring, yet I could not fall asleep. How is that possible? Malick’s films are visually stunning. The absence of artificial lighting combined with beautiful screen composition and brilliant colors was hypnotizing. Although ‘The New World’ lacked the content to match the director’s visual style, such is fortunately not always the case. He mesmerized me with ‘The Thin Red Line‘, and his new film ‘The Tree of Life’ is right up there with that one.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, ‘The Tree of Life’ documents several years of life in the O’Brien family in the 1950s. After a brief introduction to the parents played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain (of the upcoming ‘Take Shelter’), we see their world rocked by the news of their 19-year-old son’s death. As anyone who has ever watched a Malick film knows, dialogue is sparse, allowing the actors to convey the emotion that an audience member might experience in the same scenario.
Before jumping backwards in time to show us how the family’s early life brought them to the son’s passing, the film slides in an indulgent, yet beautiful, montage of the creation of Earth. Unprepared audiences may roll their eyes and call it pretentious, but the majestic sequence sets a tone that resonates throughout the film and readies the audience for the pacing and pattern to follow.
The remainder of the film shows how the parents’ completely different parenting styles either help or hinder their family. The mother, loving and gentle, becomes like a child to create a strong bond with her children. The father follows the strict tradition of being rigid and firm, which places a wall between him and the three boys. His constant hypocrisies fall hardest on the oldest son, who lashes out with rebellion and anger.
‘The Tree of Life’ is much like a morality play that demonstrates the effects of parenting and disciplinary actions while teaching children the heavy consequences that may follow spontaneous, un-thought-out actions. It’s beautiful, melancholy, exciting, and – most of all – pensive. If you sit back and go through the 138-minute journey with the characters, you will learn the secrets to some of life’s most important lessons. You may be rolling your eyes at me now, but as a father and as a son, I truly believe it. ‘The Tree of Life’ is something that everyone should experience.