Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole Ashland
Markus Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Now playing at CineArts at Santana Row in San Jose, California:
Some films are solely for entertainment purposes; “The Tree of Life” is not. This is FILM AS ART, and as such may lose a lot of interest with movie-goers. Written and directed by Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) and starring Brad Pitt (Fight Club), Jessica Chastain (The Debt), Sean Penn (Milk) and newcomer child actor Hunter McCracken. Honestly, I could spend pages going over the different nuances of each actor’s performance, but for the sake of the reading I will just say that every performance was up to par with the beauty of the film.
In the beginning — (before seeing this movie) when I heard that people had walked out of screenings of “The Tree of Life”, booed it, called it the worst film they had ever seen; while others raved about the film, as if it where one of the greatest films in years, my critic senses were tingling. In non geek terms: I couldn’t wait to see this film. In the end — I would come to the realization that “The Tree of Life” is a film that will be perceived, in the film community, as uniquely before its time.
Synopsis: “The Tree of Life” is a film in three distinctive parts:
Part 1: An existential look at why “we (humans) are”. A kind of “millions of insignificant things had to fall into place in order for us to be here” idea. This is a look at life on a grand scale. Hint: This first part verges on boring, but the rest of the film cannot survive without it, so — please take this into account.
Part 2: Documents the adolescent life of Jack (McCracken), the oldest of three boys, growing up in rural Texas in the 1950’s, and his relationships with his parents and younger brothers. Seeing his mom (Chastain) as grace and father (Pitt) as nature and struggling to find favor with both. This middle section also serves as a brilliant meditation on ideas such as the Oedipus complex, the loss of innocence and life on a micro scale as it relates to life on grand scale.
Part 3: Is an abstract, seemingly silent, film centering around Jack as an adult (Penn) attempting to accept the death of his younger brother (no that is not a spoiler).
All together these three parts work as an entire film; a brilliant and, in some cases, fully realized film. “The Tree of Life” is one of the hardest films to explain in words and as such is one of the hardest films I’ve ever had to critique. The first half plays out like an abstract piece of art that I felt dumb for not understanding, but by the end that same piece of art seemed to have transformed before my eyes and connected with me in a very personal way. And I am not saying this as just another stuck up film critic; this film really touches you.
The acting is nothing short of exceptional (Hollywood Press take note of Brad Pitt’s performance) and Malick’s directing only helps to accentuate the acting as a great director should. And the dialogue — what little there was (and there is very little for a 2 hours plus film), seemed to fit the mood of this film perfectly. The dialogue reads like poetry really. Viewer Beware: There are long stretches of scenes (especially the first and final half hour) which play out like a modern day silent film.
Biggest criticism: One of the best (and worst) things “The Tree of Life” does (and what will undoubtedly bring out all of the angry critics and unhappy audience members) is that it doesn’t try to give an explanation or answer any profound questions about life which it itself has asked. This may frustrate many people, while others may see Malik’s form of questioning as some form of enlightenment not seen in many movies nowadays. I am definitely in the latter category!
Final Thought: “The Tree of Life” is definitely not a film everyone will like or should see. In fact many will hate this film, BUT (that means it’s a big but) by the end of this film, no matter how you felt, you will go home knowing that you’ve seen something special. I would love to tell the masses to go out and see this film, but sadly I cannot recommend it to everyone because of its insanely artistic motif. Some scenes WILL come off as pretentious to some audiences, while others may seem like ominous scenes of non- sequiturs put in by Malick to fill time, but in this reviewers opinion everything in this film, even if it may not make sense, is put in for the purpose of evoking thought and discussion. Once again I will state that “The Tree of Life” is film as art and is not meant for solely entertainment value, so if you are looking for a film where you don’t have to think “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” may be right up your alley; otherwise this is a film worth searching for and at the same time, one that may change how you view movies altogether. With my recommendation of “The Tree of Life”, I fully expect that some of my readership may dwindle from those who see this movie because of this review and perceive it to be a boring exercise in eccentric filmmaking, and thusly perceiving me to be just another artsy critic that confuses the concepts of weird with good, but — .I REALLY DON’T CARE! “The Tree of Life” is not a perfect film, but at the same time is nothing short of a masterpiece. Believe that!
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