The Tree of Life Review
“Some Said That The Tree Of Life Is Poetry In Motion. If That's The Case Then Poetry Is My Soul.”
February 13th, 2012
You may ask yourself why a so late review on The Tree of Life. Aside from some personal matters I have to say that when I had the chance to write it I felt like there's so many things to write about this movie and that a shorter review will not be a fair exposition. Now, someone reminded me that I still have not written any review for this film and I was shocked to realize it so I instantly grabbed my pen and started to scratch my paper.
How do you start a review for The Tree of Life, a movie that deals with so many themes, with so many details, with a great amount of symbolism, and with so much emotion... Basically, like the movie itself, if you start with a basic beginning then your review wouldn't make any sense. You have to start with the middle, which is the core of the movie and not with the literal story. What I see as being the core of the movie is evolution, the showdown between matter and antimatter, the unification of body and spirit, the world of physical and spiritual, the way of nature and the way of grace. This is such a wide thoughtful theme that it's impossible to describe it in few words. What Malick is presenting us is the evolution of our universe thus the evolution of humans as well. Both of these paths are represented by Malick in space and in time, in space and on Earth. Malick puts his images in contrast one with another. He uses the cosmic events that were the pillars of evolution to describe life on Earth. He sends a message about both our insignificance in the grand scale of things ("Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?") and our importance to Earth and ourselves and to a possible God.
Malick's film can be analyzed and can be given a thousand interpretations. You could take for example, the literally interpretation that this film follows the story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s. You are given images of joy and happiness of Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (Brad Pitt & Jessica Chastain) and their sons. You see birth but you also see death. You can also see how could these moments change your beliefs and your entire attitude. In the brute state of the narrative, Mr. O'Brien represents the way of nature. He's hard-headed, he's physically strong, he shows few signs of pain even when he has to deal with the death of his son. He thinks a man would only succeed in this world if he's tough. A man that punishes severely his kids when they do something wrong. Even though he might seem a bad person, he actually isn't. He cares for his kids and his love for them is as great as their mother's. He's that man that forces his kids to go to church because he's a true christian. He's warm inside and he knows that he might produce suffering to other but he think that that is the only way you could survive in this world. Mrs. O'Briend on the other hand represents the way of grace. She's gentle, she's always relieved, she loves playing with her children, she's also a woman that believes in God but doesn't use the common tools of appreciating God. For example, she's the opposite of her husband. When he tells their kids to go to church she is against the idea of forcing them. So she's a mother that dedicates her life to her kids not only by being there for them and playing with them but also to assure their freedom of choice. In few words she's a fighter for the free will were the father isn't. Now in times of death, she suffers greatly, she's collapsing into a world of doubt and she starts to question God. Why did He made that decision? Now before we'll go further you have notice a thing here. While the father represents the way of nature, he has the grace in him. And while the mother represents the way of grace, she has the nature in her. Therefore the idea, that one cannot exist without the other.
Now what Malick does when she's questioning God is to show us this long beautifully poetic sequence of the creation of both the Universe and Earth. He's giving an answer. He's simply implying that one death created by an accident in the middle of all these things that happen in this universe is actually the way the nature works. He's not responsible for it because he is about bigger things than the life of one person. It's a really understandable idea that many christians never think of. It's easy to judge the Creator when you don't really understand what He stands for. That is what Malick is presenting us. But the movie doesn't stop here. We also get to see one of O'Brien's son, Jack (Sean Penn), in his adult state. A man that still mourns his passed brother, a man that inherited his father's nature. A man that is surrounded by tall and sharp buildings. A man that leaves in a cold cube of glass. He's blaming his dad for his current state and dreams about his mother's grace. He wants to achieve that second of peace but he cannot do it until he opens himself to the way of grace, until spiritually he frees himself from the jail that he's locked in. That's where the ending of the movie comes. Because all-along the film, we are given clues of why Jack ended up more like his father than his mother. But the ending shows us two things. Cosmically it shows us the end of times on Earth, spiritually it shows us a possible frontier at the end of our time.
The cinematic experience at the end of the film is heart-breaking. It's so emotional, so full of symbolism, that it's impossible for you to understand everything from the first viewing. In the end, Jack rediscovers the way of grace by meeting his little brother, his mother, and his father at the frontier I was talking about. He becomes free with the help of a simple vision or the truth itself. It's hard to explain what really happens with a perfect accuracy because there's no such thing in The Tree of Life. And that's the beauty of it. The literal story is so rich and complex in symbolism that you almost forget that there's a bigger story that is the actual point of the film. That being the possible existence of a God, and the unification of the physical and spiritual world, the importance of both science and concept of God.
The complexity of this is as challenging probably as 2001: A Space Odyssey's ending because we have less proofs of what is really happening and we are given the right to choose what we believe we just saw. And isn't that the point? Because that's exactly what God wants. If Malick had a clear message then the movie would have failed from the beginning. Terrence Malick is responsible for one of the most important movies of our time. It's masterpiece and it only falls short because of the movie's possible length and staleness for some. It's not really a movie that everyone would like. But so was 2001. So is Blade Runner. These are movies that are not made to satisfy people but to spark something in the mind of those that love them.
Emmanuel Lubezki's work is impeccable. If this doesn't win the Oscar for Best Cinematography I will quit watching the Oscars. It would be one of the worst choices the Academy has done from it's inception to this day. His choice of natural lightning, the beautiful color palette, his framing is breathtaking because every second of this film tells a story. That's why it's so impossible to really review this movie without writing the god damn Bible. And on top of that what Alexandre Desplat succeeds in this film is the epitome of musical storytelling. Not only his original work is amazing but his choice of music from Berlioz to Gorecki is fascinating. I haven't a scene in this film where the cinematography and the music wouldn't fit the story perfectly. The performances are also top notch. Brad Pitt gives a far better performance than in Moneyball and Jessica Chastain created such a believable character, no wonder why she's my pick for this year's actress of the year.
After The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick comes back with another masterpiece that defies the laws of cinematography, music, and storytelling. The Tree of Life is that important because my review could mean absolute sh*t to someone while it may be the best interpretation for another. The Tree of Life is that good because daring to write a short essay reviewing the film is an actual insult to the genius of Terrence Malick. Some said that this movie's purpose isn't to make sense because it's pure poetry. If that's the case, then poetry is my soul. I loved The Artist. I thought and still think that is an amazing film and I wouldn't be upset if The Artist will take home the Academy Award for Best Picture. However, The Tree of Life winning that award would mean justice for all those years when the Academy screwed up.
Technical Execution: 10
Replay Value: 9.5