Watching this super ambitious film is an enriching and even spiritual experience!

Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

The Tree of Life is a movie of epic proportions. That is because it revolves around one vast theme; the meaning of life. Hence, this film is very abstract in the way it presents its story. You can feel that The Tree of Life is an experimental film in many ways. In my opinion, this is an experiment that works. However, to truly experience the greatness of this movie, it is imperative that you have patience and a philosophical appreciation of life. If you don’t, than it will turn out to be really boring for you. The Tree of Life flows from one idea to the next without any proper coherence. But then ask yourself, does life progress with coherence or is it random and haphazard?

The Tree of Life is a visual spectacle. There is beautiful imagery throughout the film. There are shots of the natural world including trees, flowers, and animals. There are shots of man-made structures like buildings and bridges. All these random shots play their part in creating a very unique movie watching experience. Moreover, the camera is rarely steady throughout the film. It keeps on moving and hovering over things (like gentle waves) portraying the free flowing nature of life.

A random ‘nature’ shot

Beneath this layer of philosophy and abstraction, there is a story involving human characters. It’s about a middle aged man named Jack (played by Sean Penn) who recounts and reflects on his childhood years. These years include many experiences and events. One of the core aspects of these years are the teachings of Jack’s parents, the O’Briens (played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain). Both his parents have varying beliefs and approaches to life. Mrs.O’Brien is soft-hearted and gentle. She is fascinated by the natural world and advises her children to do the same. Mr.O’Brien, on the other hand, is a strict disciplinarian who believes in preparing his children for the world which he believes is a dark and cruel place. Through these series of experiences, we get to witness Jack’s mental and physical growth. We also get to see how he loses his innocence and gains maturity.

Jack and his father

This story is a just a part of the grand scheme of the things The Tree of Life wishes to show case. The film’s grand ambitions can be determined from the fact that it displays things ranging from large-scale (the sun, star, planets, milky way, etc) to microscopic (blood cells, germs, etc) in nature. There is even a shot of prehistoric times in which we are shown dinosaurs! This movie has no limits. It is a free flowing work of art. It captures both the intricate and cosmic details of life.  However, at times I feel that it tries to go beyond what it can portray and touches the boundaries of ‘pretentiousness’.

One can clearly see that the Tree of Life is influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is focused on gradually creating an intimate experience through shots of the natural world. In this way, it also shows the connection we human beings have with nature. Another, thing to note is that the film has minimal dialogue and lets the imagery do the ‘talking’ in many cases.

The alternating shots of the O’Brien family’s experiences and Mother Nature do resonate with each other. This turns out to be very unique story telling technique. It’s almost as if we view the events of the film from the innocent eyes of Jack O’Brien who witnesses both human and non-human affairs in his life.

Watching the Tree of Life is a journey. It is both an emotional family drama and a philosophical view on the purpose and origin of life. It is the type of film that is meant to be felt rather than understood. The film will make you appreciate the fine details and complexities of life and make you realize how insignificant our lives are when compared to the whole universe. We are nothing but a speck of dust in the desert.  The Tree of Life is just like real life; it goes on and on in its own way!