Life Is Beautiful

Review: ‘The Tree of Life’

If there is one thing writer/director Terrence Malick wants you to take away from his movie “The Tree of Life” it is this: life is beautiful.

Almost every frame of this movie is open for debate and interpretation, so let’s immediately dispense with the one element that is beyond dispute. “The Tree of Life” is one of the most beautifully filmed movies in the history of cinema and if you do venture out to see this film try to view it on a digital projector on the largest screen possible.

It would take an astounding series of unforeseen events for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki not to win an Academy Award for this film.

As for trying to explain what “The Tree of Life” is, well that’s where things get a little more complicated. At its core the movie focuses on a man named Jack, played as an adult by Sean Penn and as a child by Hunter McCracken. It focuses even more directly on Jack’s childhood in the late 50s and early 60s in Waco, Texas.

There is no plot, no story to be told. It is instead a disjointed series of images and moments that come together to form a tapestry of memories.

In many ways the movie exists as we would recall our own childhoods, with random images of our homes, our friends our playgrounds, mixed with our more concrete memories which were most often either emotionally exhilarating or terrifying.
While these memories don’t tell a specific story, we are instead given a sense of Jack’s overall childhood and most specifically his overly simplified views of his domineering father (played by Brad Pitt) and his angelic mother (played by Jessica Chastain). Or if you’d like to boil it down to an English term paper thesis statement: the mother comes to represent love and nature whereas the father stands for ambition and humanity.

It is clear that as an adult Jack has chosen the way of his father as we see scenes of Penn wandering miserably around the concrete and steel of a modern American city.

Intercut with the microcosm of Jack’s life is the super-duper macrocosm of the creation of the universe. In scenes reminiscent of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Malick sets a soaring soundtrack to swirling images of the cosmos, the formation of the solar system, the cooling of the earth, the genesis of life from the primordial ooze and the development of nature throughout the eons, complete with dinosaurs.


Comparing the completeness of the entire universe to a single life makes sense in a way, as to us our life is just as big; as the duration of our existence is all we will ever see or know of the universe anyway.

Now if all of this sounds pretentious and over-the-top, that’s because it is. Ultimately this movie is what you bring to it. Malick has created a space for audience members to meditate on God, life, the universe and everything, what you do with it is up to you.
“The Tree of Life” might be the most important movie you ever see. Or you might find it as tedious and mind-numbing as sitting through a slide-show of your Aunt Minnie’s latest vacation.

You could easily accuse this movie of being self-indulgent and overlong (a fair claim at two and a half hours), which just so happens to be the same charges you could level at an extended daydream. Pitt said that in making this movie, Malick basically sat like a guy with a butterfly net waiting to catch what went by that day. What he caught was a boatload of sublime beauty, with most of the movie shot in the “golden hour” after sunrise and before sunset.

“The Tree of Life” took home the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, which makes since as this is the type of movie that would pass as a summer blockbuster in France.

Over here it serves as the perfect antidote for those looking to escape the sexy explosions of your local multiplex. And don’t worry, if sitting in the dark for two and a half hours pondering all of existence isn’t your thing “Transformers 3” will be here before you know it.

“The Tree of Life” is rated PG-13 for some thematic material. For up to the minute movie reviews and more, follow Mathew DeKinder on Facebook at

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