Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tree of Life

"The Tree of Life" is a visually impressive film from writer/director Terrance Malick that uses amazing artistic imagery. With over 40 years of experience in film making, the vision of Terrance Malick took years to complete and worked with his friend Douglas Trumbull to deliver on the visual effects in creative forms that is a departure from modern film making. The story is secondary to the visual effects, which is unfortunate when you have a cast that includes Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. The film is more of a concept, or an idea, about faith and asks the question about the meaning of life.

The film requires a tremendous amount of patience for the first hour of the film, but then begins to soften as the story begins to be told. Once you get past the creation of the Universe, the dinosaurs, and a meteor the story about life, death and how you treat the ones around you becomes the heart of the film. Much of the film is presented as a snapshot, or family video, with voice over. However it is this dialogue that is so deeply powerful in telling the story of a man that all he ever wanted for his children was to make them strong and grow up to be their own boss and to be better than their father. He is a very authoritative father figure demanding the best from his children. upon the death of one of the children their faith begins to show doubts.

The approach to parenting is vastly different between the authoritative Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) and his wife Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) who was sensitive and compassionate. Mr. O'Brien tells his children that their mother is naive, and that it takes fierce will to get ahead in the world. The limited dialogue in the film highlight the moments of parental advice from the parents to their children. It can almost be taken as an exposition from Terrance Malick to remind the audience not to let anyone tell you there is anything you can't do. Not to let yourself get sidetracked and that if you want to succeed you can't be too good. All of this can be seen simply with the undertaking of such a film. The film reminds you that the only way to be happy is to love, and without love your life will flash by.

The performances in the film are extremely delicate as the writing is sparse and much of the performances are through voice-over, but show the skill and ability specifically from Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt. Jessica Chastain has been a very busy woman ("The Help", "Take Shelter", "Coriolanus" and "The Debt") and continues to show that she is one of the best actresses of her generation. Brad Pitt does well with what he has to work with, but if you want to see and hear Brad Pitt you would be better served to see "Moneyball".

I didn't quite understand the ending with them walking on the beach with the old Jack (Sean Penn) seeing his family 30+ years younger including his brother who past away. As well as the images of a mask floating in the water, or a door opening into the water, or the door of the house opening to a dry desert. These are just examples of the artistic style that Terrance Malick forces upon the film. The fragmented and non-linear approach can be difficult when compounded by the artistic style of a film that runs over 2 1/2 hours. However with patience the "Tree of Life" is still a 3 Quack film.

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