Beats me what this is even about, but damn does it look pretty!
Growing up in the Midwest with two brothers, Jack has always been torn between his mother (Jessica Chastain)’s guidance to approach everything he encounters with an open heart and his father (Brad Pitt)’s advice to look after his own interests. Now, Jack (played in an older age by Sean Penn) must find a way to regain purpose and perspective.
That synopsis there is sort of what I think this flick is about because within the first 240 minutes we get the creation of the universe, jelly fishes swimming all over the ocean, and dinosaurs. Yes, you heard me right, I said dinosaurs but after that then it gets normal.
Going into this flick, knowing that it was Terrence Malick not only directing but writing as well, I was going in expecting two things: 1. a good story and 2. beautiful visuals. For numero uno, I kind of got that but for number two, I definitely got that.
After seeing only two films from Malick so far (‘The Thin Red Line’, ‘The New World’) I knew that this was going to be just another one of his flicks that just wreaks in beauty with just about every shot, and he did not let me down. Every single shot here is just another piece of beauty that gets added to the collection of all of his other flicks and even with the smallest amount of light in one shot, you can still feel like you haven’t seen the sun like this quite before. The thing with a lot of these shots though, is that you seen realize that Malick is deliberately taking certain shots to put us all in the mind of Jack as a young boy and we see what he sees, feels what he feels, and at least try to understand what he’s trying to understand. It also helps that Malick shot on some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in quite some time and I honestly want to know just where he found caves that look like the ones he was filming here. No matter what though, Malick is perfect when it comes to creating beautiful visuals for a flick and even when it comes to him getting towards using CGI, it almost looks perfectly real. Hell, a lot more real than most of these big-budget action block-busters that come out every year. That’s a true testament to the directing style of Terrence Malick.
When it comes to the story, well, let’s just say things are a little bit weird. As I’ve already mentioned before, the first 40 minutes are totally confusing as we see this present-day story that goes back to the past, and then goes all the way back to the creation of the universe filled with all sorts of random life-forms. It was a little confusing at first but still stunning to watch none the less however when the actual story about this young boy and his family came in, that’s when the film really did wonders.
The whole story about this little kid and how he sees the world through two different life-styles actually made me not only feel a lot for his story but my own as well. Take it for granted though, I wasn’t born in the 50’s and my parents are both kind of the same in terms of parenting, which isn’t a bad thing in any way because come on, they let me watch R-rated movies when I wasn’t even legally allowed to. Just the way that all of these kids go about their days kicking the can down the street, chasing their mom around the house with a lizard, breaking windows to be deemed “cool” by others, and so so many other things that remind me of myself when I was a lot younger and didn’t have much to do in my life other than go outside and play with my buds. It was great to see a film just tell a story about kid growing up through the kid himself with all of his angst, curiosity, confusion, anger, but most of all, happiness.
Where I think this film hits its biggest problem is that I think its structure could have definitely been used a lot more simpler than Malick actually gave us. I have to give props to Malick for this structure because after awhile, you start to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and everything starts to make sense, but I think if he had started from the creation of the universe thing to the childhood of Jack to the adulthood of Jack, it probably would have made a lot more sense and come off as more enjoyable that way. There is also a bunch of talk about God and faith that didn’t really do much for me and may seem a bit too far-fetched when it comes to connecting two different stories together, but it didn’t really bother me all that much considering I was just watching beauty right in front of my eyes.
Even though the film sort of treats the characters as second-nature here, the performances are all still pretty good. Brad Pitt is a fine fit as Jack’s tense and strict but loving father that truly shows how Pitt can command any scene even if the guy he’s playing is a bit of a dick, but from what I hear, all fathers in the 50’s were apparently like this. Jessica Chastain is a joy to watch as the fun-loving, sweet, and tender soul that is Jack’s mom, and also a lot of love to Hunter McCracken who is just about perfect in this film as young Jack, considering how much he has to go through and none of it ever seems fake or put-on. Hopefully this kid has a lot of work in the near future. The weakest part of this cast as well as this flick is probably Sean Penn as older Jack who isn’t really given much to do in the first place other than walk around, mope, and wear a very nice suit barely even muttering a word.
Consensus: Though it’s not for everybody, The Tree of Life is a beautiful and gorgeous flick done by Terrence Malick who not only gives us wonderful visuals to gaze at, but also a story to follow and relate to (not talking about the dinosaurs) and performances to watch and admire (minus Sean Penn).