Of all the trailers I’ve watched recently, none has seemed more appealing than The Tree of Life. I’m not a Brad Pitt fan, I didn’t realise it was a Terence Malick film, and the trailer didn’t really offer much other than powerful music and the possibility of good cinematography. But, in the face of the standard rom-coms, gross-out comedies, animated films and superhero flicks, The Tree of Life stood out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy films from all genres, but it is good to see something different, something ambitious, something poetic. When I found out it was a Terence Malick film, I knew it would be all those things. I couldn’t wait to see it. I even watched The Thin Red Line and Badlands to remind myself what a great and interesting filmmaker he is. But the one thing that worried me was the casting of Brad Pitt. After watching the film, I feel my inkling was right. But Pitt aside, this film was a whirlwind of a ride, a true cinematic experience.
First thing’s first, this film is not for everyone. If you want something immediate you probably won’t enjoy this film. It is a slow, meandering, diatribe on grief, family, memory and, well, just about everything, the meaning of life, creation, religion. The cinematography is astounding, as we travel through space and time, but this aspect seemed too much for some of the audience. Some resorted to talking and giggling through it. At least three people walked out. Without it, I felt you didn’t get the true picture, the scale of our lives. If you want to see this film to gawk at Brad Pitt, don’t bother. The two girls next to me seemed only to be content when he was on the screen, and they groaned through the creative animation of time and space, sexuality and creation. This is not to say it isn’t worth watching it for the performances.
Hunter McCracken and Laramie Eppler as the two young brothers central to the plot perform wonderfully. McCracken particularly, playing Jack O’Brien, as he moves through his troubled and confusing youth, discovering sexuality along the way – Freudian undertones to boot. Sean Penn as the older Jack, is also fine. Jack’s mother, played by Jessica Chastain, gives a stunning performance as the conflicted wife of Brad Pitt’s role. Pitt, whilst you have to admire him for his film choices, is just Brad Pitt, in another complex role he doesn’t quite fulfil.
Overall the film is philosphical, as you might expect, but brought to us by a man with a true eye for human emotion. It is slow, at times, in that you become aware of time, but the true mark of the film for me came with its somewhat abrupt end. Not only was I left wanting more, but when I left the cinema I had the eerie feeling that it had only been ten minutes since I’d walked in. Pretty appropriate for a film that shows us the true magnitude of human emotion, whilst also showing us the true scale of life – from the big bang, through the birth of life, to dinosaurs, to now. In essence, the film is about a family dealing with the death of a son and brother. The message is about accepting this as a part of life, rather than avoiding it – avoid love and life will be over in the blink of an eye. Human emotion is the true scale of our lives.