16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My most viewed film of all time
The difference between Art and Entertainment is that Art demands something of the viewer. This is a very demanding film and many have refused the demand. For those who do respond it rewards with a new narrative style, visual beauty, and profound (and challenging) theological insight into the value and cost of human life. I have shown this movie 14 times to friends and...
Published 8 months ago by Bob Vernon
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambitious, but didn't work for this viewer
This film is nothing if not ambitious, and I suppose it deserves some credit for attempting to ask what life is all about with sincerity, and trying to place human life in the bigger scheme of things. The soundtrack is continuous and dominant, plastered over a film that is rather inflated. An opening announcement suggests you turn it up loud, presumably to override...
Published 1 month ago by schumann_bg
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My most viewed film of all time,
The difference between Art and Entertainment is that Art demands something of the viewer. This is a very demanding film and many have refused the demand. For those who do respond it rewards with a new narrative style, visual beauty, and profound (and challenging) theological insight into the value and cost of human life. I have shown this movie 14 times to friends and still cannot take my eyes from the screen.
Chastain glows and Pitt gives his best ever performance, achingly true,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE PATH OF GRACE OR NATURE?,
The Tree of Life ironically deals with the topic of death. The film tells you to turn up the sound so you can hear all the first person narration. When their son dies at the age of 19 parents cope with the loss and question their faith, but not severely question their faith that would alter their life style. After the characters are introduced, we still see Sean Penn doesn't own a comb. The film digresses into a Discovery Channel special which condenses the modern version of creation of 14.7 billion years into about 12 minutes. I felt like we had passed into the monolith.
We now start all over with the birth of the children. Hey, we already know one dies. There are things that are whispered. These are meant to be ideas or questions for God. Brad Pitt metaphorically represents the "tough love" God who prepares us for life's journey without us realizing it. Hence we have the macrocosm and microcosm in our tale. One could assume that the microcosm of our life is reflective of our theological views, we carve out a tough love God based upon our tough love "Father". At one point in the movie Brad Pitt insists his son call him "Father" and never "Dad." Having lived in the south, that is a no-no. "Father" is reserved for the heavenly Father. That is a hint of the symbolism. A sermon stresses the book of Job and asks, "Is the scheme of life a fraud?"
Not for everyone. I was very bored until I figured out what they were attempting to do. I think the beauty of the film is that different people can grasp a different meaning from it. It doesn't spell it out. My review is one take.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resonates...,
Beautiful. I'm trying to think if there is another film-maker who has tried to use film as a simulcra of what life might be about? Perhaps Wenders?
To the naysayers I think I understand. It isn't an easy pop-corn munching movie to watch. Throw away the pop-corn.
I loved it, but it doesn't work as a family movie, but a personal one. Every trivial detail of Brad Pitt's family resonate with my own childhood.
The sequence from big bang to life is breath-taking. The sounds of life from all around you in 5.1 or 7.1 are tremendous, the audio experience is a glorious delight.
At the beginning of the movie it asks you to play the DVD loud. So I did, very loud. Regretably for many people this film only works on large screens with the very best audio fidelity, or a suitably equipped home cinema system with a large screen and excellent speakers.
Tremendous achievement Mr Malick.
Comment: I note another review mentioned the religious symbolism - but though there was some it didn't make an impact on me - the gathering at the end was an allegory, almost a deep wish that we all re-unite at the end of it all, as the 1-god-religions try so hard to make us believe - but an atheist will take away a far deeper meaning from this film because they will see more clearly the accident that is our universe.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cautious love,
I have a cautious love for this film. An oddity in some ways, seeking to place the story of one family and their regrets in the context of the beginning of existence and the eventual end of the world. Majestically shot, superbly acted, but perhaps Malick could have placed the very important dialogue (of which there is not that much in the whole film) a bit higher in the mix. Subtitles helped me out here in a way that people who saw the film in the cinema weren't blessed with. With great art comes the risk of great pretentiousness and this is certainly a film that walks the tightrope between the two.Which side of the tightrope you fall off and land in will be very much about who, and how reflective you are.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going back to our roots,
I took a chance on this film after hearing various bewildered critical responses from cinema goers and critics. At issue seemed to be the sprawling cosmic imagery, intercutting scenes of family drama, with sequences involving dinosaurs being singled out for especial derision.
Still, intrigued, I rented this, and I am incredibly glad that I did.
The film is long and sprawling, and you are put in the mind frame for the human wrestling the transcendent straightaway, with a quote from the Book of Job, the voice of God, no less;
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world..."
The film unfolds at a searching, meditative pace, but we go straight to intense human drama, with the O'Brien family receiving news of the death of a son. The action then rewinds, through the mind's eye of Sean Penn's middle aged architect reflecting on his boyhood with this family, and the character of the mother (Jessica Christian) reflecting on the twin paths of 'Grace' and 'Nature.'
The interplay between the sons and the parents in the America of their day (50's Texas) is the human drama of the film. The mother is all gentleness and grace, but with steel too. The father (an impressive Brad Pitt), authoritarian and wounded, is scarred into an oppressive attitude to his boys by what he sees as the merciless, Darwinian struggle of life.
The Sean Penn character, as a boy, grows and rebels, increasingly testing his father. There are also landmark events that further underscore the frightening side of life. The drowning of a boyhood friend is a particularly chilling and effective example of this, with the grotesque suddenness and splintering horror of it breaking in when least expected to a carefree community event.
All this is juxtaposed by the wider cosmic 'birth pangs' of the universe and the world, with fantastic images of galaxies and worlds, our world, being born. We see the growing pains of creation, cosmic collisions and explosions, experimental life, dinosaurs.
So, the human struggle is given context, but not trivialised. In fact, it is given its meaning.
The Christian imagery, spoken and implied in the film will give meaning to some. Others will find the meaning in the cycles and struggles of nature. Some both. But for me, no film has so successfully linked the human struggle with the transcendent since perhaps 2001 a Space Odyssey. This earlier film, with its explosion of cosmic imagery and the sense of an incredible 'other' gave me a lasting sense of wonder similar to this. It's fitting that both films are linked through the effects work of Doug Trumbull. If anything, this film has a greater human heart set in the realities of human life, without the distractions of homicidal supercomputers.
And the climactic vision, seen through the eyes of Sean Penn's character, is a powerful emotional and spiritual drama of reconciliation and redemption.
This is an enthralling, wonderful film. Go see.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Beautiful Thing You'll Ever See,
The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambitious, but didn't work for this viewer,
This film is nothing if not ambitious, and I suppose it deserves some credit for attempting to ask what life is all about with sincerity, and trying to place human life in the bigger scheme of things. The soundtrack is continuous and dominant, plastered over a film that is rather inflated. An opening announcement suggests you turn it up loud, presumably to override critical faculties. By trying to question God's purpose and pitching the whole enterprise at this exalted level, its imagery often falls flat, or would do if the camera stopped gliding around for a second. It conflates images of natural phenomena and the planets - breathtaking in themselves - with the story of one family in Texas, and the stylistic constraints this imposes on the domestic depiction do not work in the film's favour, although they do make it possible by trying to give an air of lightness and transience to the everyday which matches the grandest imagery, or at least doesn't jar. It is all of a piece. The Fifties sections, which take up most of the film, show 'daily life' although it's hardly recognisable as such. It is shot in a way that suggests the view from a fairground ride, but without the lights or colour - you've hardly seen something and it swoops out of the picture. It succeeds in avoiding a soap-opera feel, but the setting is pretty blank in itself. The family of three boys live in a house that seems devoid of any specific character, and lead bland lives to match - no time of day is ever really clear, no sense of a routine or any of the basic things that underpin any real life. Instead we get whispered metaphysical questions, swooping close-ups and sharp cut-aways, often over great music: Berlioz and Couperin are used quite a lot, to good effect. It is greater than the film itself, but in keeping with its themes, so some of this does rub off. Not all the music is great, however ... there are some new-agey excerpts by composers like Preisner and Gorecki which I find a bit dubious, but they do fit, in a way. The acting by the children is fine, but the three star leads - the parents and one of the sons decades later - do nothing very exceptional, and the characterisation of the Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain roles seemed like an empty space - they are just on screen, and there's not much more to it. They seem like pawns moved about amid all this camerawork and the soundtrack. The final scene on a beach is meant to be the very acme of spirituality and vision, but looks more like a Jack Vettriano painting; its religiose overtones leave you confused, it is such a mixture of obviousness and sentimentality, with a bit of Magritte thrown in and some more harking back to the 2001-style imagery. For a mystical concluding beach scene, Jonathan Glazer's Birth is so much more effective and moving than this.
A sequence where an adolescent takes an older woman's negligee and lays it flat on the bed seems copied from Malle's Le souffle au coeur, another film set in the 1950s about three brothers where the father is draconian and absent for a time ... but that is everything this film isn't. Even the unpretentious Australian film, Love in Limbo, also about three boys in the 50s, is probably better (as is the Canadian Crazy, about four brothers, set in the 70s). These films were much less noticed and seem consigned to oblivion, even though they have great appeal. I am baffled by The Tree of Life getting so many prizes - how could the jury at Cannes have found it deserving of the Palme d'Or? Malle's film was nominated for one Oscar - which it didn't even get, but then he was French ...
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Masterpiece,
You have to see Tree of Life for yourself. Even then you will have to watch is 3-5 times before you can truly appreciate it.
Reviews seem to be split between unadulterated raves and savage critiques. In truth, both of these arguments are right.
Unfortunately there is an awkward sequence (from meeting Sean Penn to discovering the creation of life) that seriously derails the film and is probably responsible for a large portion of the negative reviews. While we understand a grieving mother asking God why he took her son, Penn's introduction is one note (city life has disconnected him from his true self) and too long. We then move into the 'creation of the universe' with no clear understanding why this relates to what we've just seen. More interesting voice over from either Mother or Son at this crucial junction would have provided the stimulus needed for us to undertake this journey. As it is, it is a beautiful sequence but one which feels too disconnected from the family narrative. Such a shame and so easily fixed.
If you are able to look past this mis-step, the 2nd half of the film is truly magical. Once we get stuck into the family dynamics the film finds solid footing and it features some of Malick's best work to date. He seems to understand the human condition better than any other film maker. He's also never forgotten the questions we all asked as children. Why should I be good? Is there a God? Why do we die?
While this doesn't hit the heights of Thin Red Line, it is still a bold, spiritual and life affirming film from one of life's true geniuses.
Go see it!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tree Of Life - A critical misjudgement,
Given the awards that this film has won, and the glowing reviews that I read everywhere, I was expecting a masterpiece of cinematography with a complex and moving central message told with a unique style. I jumped at the chance to go and see it in the cinema and really wish that I hadn't.
To give credit where it is due, the film is in places visually absolutely stunning. The cinematography is indeed superb and worth of praise. The main problem for me was the film's message. Malick doesn't really have a lot to say, and takes an awfully long time to say it. The central story around which Malick hangs his message is that of a young boy growing up in mid fifties America, and his relationship with his bullying father and angelic mother. At some point the boy's brother dies, and we see images of his 1950's youth mixed with present day images of him still coming to terms with his childhood. All this is shown in a fractured timeframe with little logical order. Interspersed with all of this are images of the creation of the universe and earth, the evolution of life and images of a possible god like entity. The ending is just downright odd, with some sort of mystic beach perhaps supposed to represent heaven. I didn't understand that part, but by then had completely lost interest in the film.
The film meanders along for a few hours with lots of nice pictures. The stories could be interesting but ultimately don't really lead anywhere. The characters are generally completely 2 dimensional and completely unengaging, thus losing any emotional impact that the film might have had. There are lots of philosophical ramblings which appear to be asking `is there a god?' and showing us the insignificance of our place in the universe. It moves very very slowly, almost interminably, and nothing of interest actually happens. The film feels exceedingly long, with lots of jumping around and throwing in of seemingly unrelated excerpts. This makes the film appear complex, but ultimately seems to be an attempt to cover up its shortcomings.
It is a long time since I have been as bored by a film as by this. I enjoy the arty end of the film spectrum as a rule, and enjoy a good impressionistic film that goes at it's own pace (I love Ingmar Bergman's work for example, and think Th Dreyer's Vampyr is a masterpiece), but this left me cold. There was nothing in it which caught my interest. The only reason I stayed was because of the glowing reviews and the expectation that the good bit that they were all talking about would come along soon. It didn't. The film ends rather abruptly and left me thinking `was that it?'
I went to see this in a local art house cinema, about 10% of the audience walked out, and of the remainder opinion was sharply divided with about 50% loving it and 50% thinking it was pretentious twaddle.
Personally I cannot understand the acclaim that has been heaped on this film. While I admit that there are some people who may well of actually enjoyed this, it has the feel at times of a film that people think that they should like in order to appear `with it'. I found it very pretentious and uninteresting and, even worse, completely unenjoyable and unenlightening. So, two stars because I did quite like the cinematography, especially of the creation scenes. An edit of just these sections of the film would probably make an interesting IMAX film. But a work of genius worthy of gushing and fulsome praise? I am afraid not.
5.0 out of 5 stars Malick's answer to Job,
The 'Tree of Life' begins with a quote from the Book of Job:
"Where were you when I laid down the foundations of the Earth?.. When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
The quotation is from God's answer to Job. Job is a righteous man who has nevertheless suffered every kind of calamity and misfortune, and who demands an answer from God as to why he must suffer. The book deals with the problem of suffering, how God can allow bad things to happen to good people. Malick seizes on the themes in this biblical dialogue and uses them as the framework upon which he builds his latest cinematic meditation on the ultimate meaning of existence; his artistic ambition is breathtaking!
The film's opening sequence shows a middle-aged couple, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, receiving news that their 19 year old son has died. They struggle with their grief, and are unable to make any sense of the tragedy. The man is filled with bitterness and self-recrimination. For the first time he realises that the boy's life was something holy and sacred, something 'other' - a divine gift and not a possession or extension of himself. Pitt's character tortures himself for every harsh word and comment, and feels ashamed that even though it was done `out of love' that he caused the boy pain. He begins to understand that there is a divine dimension to the Universe which he had hitherto been blind to. This transcendent dimension Malick calls 'grace', and the crisis caused by the brother's death is ultimately seen as the catalyst which opens the other family members up to its healing power.
The scene shifts to the boy's brother, played by Sean Penn, who is an architect designing cold office buildings of glass and steel in the city. He's clearly an unhappy man, and apparently still coming to terms with the loss of his brother and his relationship with his father. Throughout the film Penn's character is perplexed by life, almost shut off from it, and he struggles to overcome the negative, materialistic influence of his father. Malick calls this influence 'nature'.
We are then taken back through vast stretches of time and space to when the foundations of the Universe were laid down, presumably by God, in a twenty minute sequence of jaw dropping cinematic genius. We see the formation of the cosmos, the vastness of it, the complexity of life as it develops and evolves. We see the first creatures come into being, and the beginning of the fight for dominance of the Earth through 'survival of the fittest'.
The focus then changes from the macro sphere to the micro; we are back with the family as the boys are growing up. However, their lives are now seen in the light of our cosmic journey, and we are therefore seeing their personal drama from a higher perspective. We see things with an appreciation of the Creator's perspective, and that allows us to perceive more clearly the religious and philosophical themes that are wrapped up in their lives.
There is a stark contrast between the harsh, aggressive worldliness of the father and the softness, grace and otherworldliness of the mother. Malick uses the father and mother as representations of the twin influences of nature and grace. These, in Malick's view, form the key opposing forces in man's existential dilemma. If we look at the bible, these twin forces are represented by two trees: the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. When humanity chose the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, it did so as it wanted to be as God; for this desire man was exiled from the Garden of Eden and hurled into the world of suffering. These age-old themes form the major philosophical thrust of the film.
Grace is loving, patient and kind, the path of the divine. In the Garden of Eden the path of grace is symbolised by the 'Tree of Life'. In other words, those who follow the path of grace are rewarded with life; and those who follow the path of nature are closed off from garden and the Tree of Life.
Nature represents the `wisdom of the world', the natural impulse that wishes to subdue and control, to intellectually know and to understand, the `will to power'.
The father, as avatar of nature, constantly admonishes his boys, tells them how they have to work hard to dominate and win. He himself works for many hours and goes on business trips to try to make his mark on the world, but ultimately his understanding of life is seen by Malick to be flawed, because it savours too much of the original temptation of mankind - in other words, the temptation to be as God. Malick suggests that the idea that you are in control, which is presumably what Job felt when everything was going well, is just a silly form of hubris when seen in context of the vastness of the Universe.
In light of the above, the father's attempts at achieving success take on an increasingly pathetic quality, as do his constant hectoring of his sons about how they should approach life, and need to strive to dominate it. He thinks he understands life and is in control, but events will demonstrate otherwise. He finds himself shut out from life, as does the elder son, who has been contaminated by this spiritually corrosive attitude.
The film moves from a crisis to a resolution of these themes. Pitt's character, for instance, finally realises that the path of nature by which he lives only served to shut him off from his own life; Malick suggests that people should not seek to understand the problem of suffering or the meaning of our existence intellectually, but rather that we need to accept our own infinite smallness when compared with the vastness of God and to abandon our hubris and to trust in his divine providence.
There are a huge number of elements to this film, and I am only scratching the surface here. The simple fact is that it is one of the most outstanding and thought-provoking pieces of cinema ever made.
In my opinion this is a film you can watch over and over again, and get more out of it with each viewing; if nothing else it makes you ponder what is grave and constant in human experience, and that is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.
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The Tree Of Life by Terrence Malick (Blu-ray)