Are you prepared for a voyage into the darkest pits of the conflicted soul?
To take a Technicolor, wide-screen ride to the farthest reaches of time and space, from the beginning to the end with some resurrection and infinity thrown in for good cinematic measure?
Then take a deep breath, a sip of your soda, a nibble or two of popcorn and disappear into the new celluloid experiment by Terrence Malick the visionary director of films such as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line.
The Tree of Life is a surrealist rollercoaster of a movie, taking you on a journey down the rabbit hole, to the depths of death, the pinnacles of life, leaving you wide eyed and inspired.
It breaks all stereotypes and standards of normalcy, just to spit you out at the end, feeling like you have not only witnessed but rather have been a part of something beautifully extraordinary.
The film begins with a philosophical quotation from the Book of Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Then it all starts: all the laughter, all the tears, all the life, all the death, everything and nothing. Half the film is a dramatization/visualization of the creation and destruction of the universe, a poetically metaphysical apparition of all possibility of emotions and existence. God is questioned, volcanoes erupt, black holes come into existence, stars explode, the first cells begin to multiply, dinosaurs roam; the other half is a very real human drama depicting the lives of a intricate family in 1950’s Waco, Texas.
Meet young Jack O’Brien played by Hunter McCracken. Since before he could remember, pre-birth, pre-earth, pre-worries, pre-contemplations, his brain acted like a sponge, soaking up every color, every essence, every touch, every smell, every taste, and most of all, every sound of both waking and transitory life.
We get taken through a documentation of his combative relationship with his stern father marvelously portrayed by Brad Pitt.
We observe the births and childhoods of Jack and his two brothers. Jack, however, is definitely the marked man, continuously walking the tight rope between being a contemplatively sweet boy and an aggressively rebellious young man. The film even has an extended existential cameo by renowned actor Sean Penn who plays the grownup version of Jack O’Brien.
We observe him scaling up and down massive skyscrapers, pondering the meaning of life, the existence of God, and more tangibly, the haunting death of his late brother. And then the film ends with Jack wandering in a purgatory of an ethereal beach with all his loved ones and memories. He’s running down that mystic beach at the end of time and space, searching for answers, sitting at the intersection of projected memories and aspired possibilities. And then it all ends just as it started, with a flash of light.
The Tree of Life proves itself anything but conventional because of its non-linear style, its unfathomable digestion of themes, and scattered prosaic representation.
But what truly resonates when watching the film is its humility, the raw truth that undoubtedly touches deep down. It’s a film worth seeing whether it succeeds in answering some of life’s big questions or not, whether you leave utterly confused, drained, or wholly moved.