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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Review: The Tree of Life
Review: The Tree of Life Print E-mail
Written by Ameen Hojabr   
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 11:32
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
Certificate: 12A

It is an odd film that manages to captivate an audience despite a loose or non-existent narrative, and The Tree of Life is definitely guilty of a vague narrative. Guilty may be the wrong word, though, as the vivid and episodic scenes of Jack's (Penn) childhood memories are supposed to feel arbitrary and sporadic. As erratic as it is, Jack's memory is a potent force. It certainly scars his later life as he randomly walks around different locations like he’s perpetually lost, thinking about his time as a kid with his brother.

As the title unequivocally states, this film is about life. Not too general, then. More specifically, it’s also about a family mothered by the benign figure of Mrs. O'Brien (Chastain). The dominating dad, Mr. O'Brien, is a fitting role for Brad Pitt, constantly battling his instincts of fatherly affection and authoritarian parenting. This is the backbone of the story, but Malick's ambition is to show us more, the creation of earth and the growth of life, through arresting shots of grand nature and images of microscopic biological detail.

Malick is very tender and whimsical with his films, showing the more compassionate side of nature. A scene where a raptor chooses not to kill a dying dinosaur is one of The Tree of Life's most striking images, while Mrs. O'Brien becomes the key figure of affection, doting on Jack's younger brother. It is somewhat ironic that her love could have been just as damaging to the older Jack as his father’s strict control.

But the Tree of Life's not all deep and heavy stuff. There are comic touches too, such as a random stranger performing ridiculous mimes in front of a dumbfounded baby. And when Brad's dad goes away for business, the children run wild, banging the doors and running around the house, free from the restraints he imposes. These scenes are a welcome break from the generally grand affair that the film undoubtedly is.

In classic Malick style, the choice of music is sublime and very stylised; subtle soundscapes accompany a lot of hushed narration. Without the strong narrative drive of Malick's masterpiece The Thin Red Line, the whispered lines feel a bit vague, but that isn't necessarily a criticism, rather a recommendation to focus on the sensory experience. The Tree of Life will scar your retinas with extraordinary beauty for a very long time.


A piece of extraordinary beauty, The Tree of Life reveals a gentle tone of love and loss - two ideals profoundly charted by a director at his most confident.


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