It has taken me a long time to think what words to write. What words describe a film which has left me, 4 hours after first watching it, sitting staring at a blank computer screen? To me this is what great cinema does. It makes you think, it makes you question yourself, it makes you question the filmmaker. This is what Terrance Malick’s the Tree of Life delivers. You will not see anything like this film for the rest of the year, and you will either be glad of this, or it will leave you with a deep passionate longing for cinema made on this scale.
The Tree of Life is only Malick’s fifth film in 38 years, and for many it will be his masterpiece, for others it will seem pretentious and self indulgent. The film starts with what I imagine will be the love it or hate it moment for most. We are given a snapshot of a grieving family, and what follows is one of the most beautiful, ambitious and challenging 20-30 minutes of cinema you will see this year, in which Malick tackles the origins of the cosmos and man himself. I myself have to accept at times during the beginning I found myself questioning the scale and length of the sequence, but all the while being mesmerised by what was going on before me. Once this initial sequence is over, we are given snapshots of a middle aged man (Sean Penn) clearly torn and finding himself questioning his own place in the world, due to the experiences of his youth.
The film then flashes back to show a striking portrayal of innocence lost. It also gives a strong commentary on the social norms of the time within the family in the 50’s. For me Brad Pitt steals the show as the tough father, who clearly loves his children but believes it is his role to toughen them up and prepare them for the world. However he is unaware that through this method he is instilling in his children the thought that love and fear are the same emotion. It is in my opinion one of Pitt’s most understated and brilliant performances. His wife played by Jessica Chastain, is a gentle religious women who cares deeply for her family but is troubled by the ferocity of her husband’s parenting techniques. We then watch as the children grow and come to terms with the harshness of the world, especially the eldest son. Throughout the film maintains a strong religious theme that adds strongly to the narrative of the movie. The ending once again will divide audiences, but I couldn’t help but admire the bringing together of elements of the story, whilst also leaving us to ponder on the grander scheme of things in this life.
This film will not be for everyone. However if you are looking for something more from your movies, a visionary shock to the senses, something which wakes that passion for what can be captured and created by an imagination and a camera lens, then I would urge you to experience this movie. It makes you want to go away and debate, talk, argue, find out what everyone else got from this unforgettable film. After all this is what great cinema does isn’t it?
Martin Barker works in the café bar and when not struggling to balance your meals from the kitchen to the table or watching films, he enjoys live music and exploring new places.