Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken.
Now this is a tough one. If I say I hated it, you’ll say I don’t know what real filmmaking is about. If I say I loved it, you’ll go with high expectations and curse me after this two-hour-twenty-minute long ‘art’ film is over. Let’s just say it isn’t for everyone, and by that I mean mostly everybody save for film critics and connoisseurs of abstract cinema.
So my fellow critic and friend tells me, “It’s a different grammar of cinema”; another senior critic is like, “I loved it, it’s a vivid reminder of my childhood days.” If you’re a fan of Terrence Malick’s work then you’ll understand what’s behind all this intellectualisation. While I watched beautifully cinematographed landscapes, waterfalls, canyons, cloud formations, trees and other elements you’d find on Discovery HD, with a classical background score making it all seem like a ballet, I was reminded of another film I had watched ages ago: The New World (with Colin Farrell). It seemed similar and I remember finding that film utterly boring. And what do you know, that was directed by Malick as well!
Apart from winning the Palm d’Or (highest honour) at the Cannes Film Festival 2011, The Tree of Life has been highly praised for its stirring, abstract, deep, philosophical, poignant portrayal of life, the inception of the universe, the family unit, growing up and our place in the grander scheme of things. Interested yet?
Apparently, The Tree of Life is designed to make audiences think differently than what they’re used to doing going for a film. Sort of like Inception did. But if you thought Inception was complicated, you’re going to have to be a Mastermind champion to figure this one out. And of course, Inception (and I didn’t even think it was that great a film) was entertaining. The Tree of Life… not so much.
Brad Pitt plays a hardworking, traditional man, head of a household with three kids who he trains to call him ‘sir’ and to not talk at the dinner table or else. Sean Penn’s character is the eldest kid in the future who has flashbacks in to his childhood and the tribulations and truancy of those times. The tragedy of one of his brothers dying kicks off a question: ‘Why god?’ And thus begins a journey through nature, the cosmos, planets, volcanoes, dinosaurs and waterfalls. On and on and on high definition visuals merge one into another and you wonder if the whole film will go on this way. Thankfully it doesn’t.
Replete with metaphor, symbolism and comment, The Tree of Life is certainly not your average Saturday night entertainer. You have to be someone who takes his films seriously, who loves the abstract, is into World Cinema and has the patience to sit through the creation of the universe one atom at a time.