Every once in a very rare while a film comes along that not only changes your view of cinema and filmmaking but your view on your whole existence. For me, The Tree of Life is unquestionably a film of this nature.
The Tree of Life is only legendary director Terrence Malick's 5th film since 1973, and is a non-linear journey through Malick's memories, thoughts and beliefs. Oh, and there's even time to fit in astonishing sequences of the creation and evolution of the universe!
There's so much content here but the strongest feeling I got is that Malick is interested in where we come from, both as individuals and as inhabitants of planet earth. What makes us who we are? Also the Job-like musings of why bad things happen to good and innocent people. But what is evident most of all is that this is a form of autobiography.
The 'plot' and that is a loosely used term here, centres around flashbacks of an architect Jack (Sean Penn) who remembers his childhood and the brother who (we find out v early on in the film, and which was true in Malick's real life) would end up dying at just 19. On this note Brad Pitt is excellent as Jack's father and Jessica Chastain is wonderful as Jack's mother who both shape young Jack (clearly an autobiographical version of Malick himself), and the child actors (in particular Hunter McCracken as young Jack) are tremendous too.
Another point worthy of mention is the beautiful emotive score by Alexandre Desplat (who also did the Kings Speech) and which also features original music from the likes of Bach, Berlioz and Tavener.
The only downsides that people may point to is the older Jack (Sean Penn) was a bit of a one note character and could've been fleshed out more. Also maybe some of the evolution/nature shots could have been excised by 5 minutes over the runtime of 138 minutes.
But these are the only really criticisms I have. Malick bares all in this beautiful film; his guilt, his shame, his regrets.... his life. I don't think I've seen a film in which a director gives so much of himself, and if you know anything about the reclusive, secretive man Malick is (he hasn't even given a public interview since the 1970s for example) then this is even more remarkable. In an age of remakes, reboots, and throwaway, overwrought, explosion-based films; Malick is an artistic giant, never wavering from his unique personal path.