Sunday, 11 November 2012

FILM: The Tree of Life (6/10)

Why did I watch it?
Came across this one after seeing it mentioned in Sight & Sounds 2012 greatest film poll. Although it didn't make the final list, 16 critics voted it in their top 10 greatest films of all time. That coupled with the fact that I enjoyed another of director Terence Malick's films, The Thin Red Line, made this worth investigating.

What's it all about?
Simply put, the film largely chronicles the childhood memories of a middle-aged man Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn). Growing up in Waco, Texas, Jack is the oldest of three boys, sons of parents Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain with contrasting views on life. Pitt is frustrated with his achievements in life and raises his sons with a firm hand, in particular Jack, as he attempts to impress upon them that life is a cruel game that must be conquered through hard work and desire. In Chastain, the boys have a mother with a carefree spirit, happy to simply be alive amongst the wonders of God. In between the present day and the retold memories, the viewer is told at the film's offset that one of the younger boys died as a young adult in military service.

Should you watch it?
The Tree of Life is without doubt the most difficult film I have ever watched. I'll admit to watching this in two sessions as I stepped away from it after the first twenty minutes or so, frustrated with the lack of narrative and religious whispering behind scenes of light flickering in the dark.

Thankfully, I returned to it later although I almost gave up again during the twenty minute sequence covering the creation of Earth and life upon it. This was like watching a nature documentary and culminating with CGI dinosaurs, I still question the necessity for this sequence. To me it felt completely detached from the 'the tree of life' that was the telling of the life of Jack.

"Do not speak unless you have something significant to say"

The film is edited to within an inch of it's life as some fantastically beautiful shots and imagery are interspersed between the scenes of the family's relationship. I believe the only person who will truly appreciate and understand the intricacy of the film's editing and imagery is Malick himself.

A corner is turned once the philosophy of evolution is put to one side and the narrative (although still unconventional) begins. Pitt, Chastain and Hunter McCracken (young Jack) give truly excellent performances. As the oldest of three brothers myself, I related to the boys innocently running amok in the neighbourhood, usually going too far in their youthful exuberance and daring (and usually the younger brother paying the price!). I really enjoyed this section of the story, as Jack became troublesome and his relationship with his father began to breakdown to the point of him considering dropping a car on his head. Disappointingly though, for me the ending was as unrewarding as the film's start leaving my enjoyment of The Tree of Life a real quandary.

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