Film Review – The Tree of Life
The other part of the film is really where it will test the audience’s patience. While one part deals with Jack and his family, the other appears to deal with the very development of the world itself. A large portion in the beginning has no actors in it, but instead a number of scenes depicting the birth of the world. We see a large explosion in the middle of the universe, perhaps The Big Bang, and then a barren planet. The film skips forward to the advancement of water, the very essence of life, making its way around the globe. We see atoms split; cells develop, and life forms begin to take shape. Large volcanic eruptions contribute to the landscape of the massive continents, until finally we see the first signs of life emerging out of the water and becoming what we know as the early dinosaurs.
So what does all this mean? Malick spends a very large portion of the first act to show how the world has developed into what it is today, but how does that relate to the inner turmoil that Jack has with his father? Maybe what Malick is trying to say is that, despite the enormousness of the universe, and how very insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things, the real important things to a person are not large, but tiny. The love that a father has for his son, or a mother with her children—that is what we should care about and what we should cherish. The great mysteries of the universe are inconsequential if one does not have love in their life. Jack spends his entire life resenting the kind of “love” that his father tried to give him, and as a result has grown up as a man still in search for that love, maybe in an attempt to pass it on to his own children. I’m not sure if this is what Malick intended, but this is what my feeling was after seeing the movie. When we compare these grandiose, large scale scenes of the world coming to life with the fleeting moments when Jack’s family actually felt happy together, we get a sense that Malick is telling us that this is where we are, this is our life, here and now, and we should treasure every single part of it.
The Tree of Life is not for everyone. The film will get criticized for being self-indulgent, overblown, and pretentious. I’ve read articles describing how it got booed at its screening at Cannes. All of these complaints have merit, I can see how one can find many faults within it, and, in fact, I would agree with a number of them. It may be best for one to watch another Malick movie before they walk in to this, so that they can have an idea of what they’re getting into. But despite all that, I was completely riveted by the movie. My eyes were glued to the screen, I was engulfed by the stunning imagery and beautiful music, the performances were good all around, and during the entire time I felt I was in the hands of a filmmaker who knew exactly what he was doing.
The most surprising thing happened after the film was done. When the closing credits rolled, everyone in the theater sat in complete silence for minutes. Then, we all stood up and slowly walked out of the theater, not one word being said. I’ve never encountered a screening like that; it was as if we just experienced something none of us completely grasped, but at least we experienced it together. Take that for what you will.
Final Grade: B+