The Tree of Life: A Visionary Journey Through Time

MOVIE REVIEW| Director Terrence Malick chronicles and explores the evolution and meaning of life in this inspiring tale.

By Taryn Rothstein
Photo Courtesy of Beyond Hollywood
“The Tree of Life,” Terrence Malick’s fifth film in 38 years, takes you through a series of emotions and settings starting at the beginning of time.

The introduction of the film begins with the development of life accompanied by beautiful orchestral music and aesthetic images of cosmic history. This film presents the quintessential beginning and evolution of emotion, starting with a scene of prehistoric passion involving dinosaurs.

The journey of life changes focus and zooms in on a family in Texas set in the 1950s. Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) are young lovers. Moments in the film speed quickly through time, fast forwarding to their first-born son, Jack (Hunter McCracken). Even as a child, Jack has some difficulty dealing with uncertainty and falls to rebellion, especially after his younger brother, R.L., is born. After the third child is born, Steve, the relationship between the three brothers thickens and Jack struggles with his emotions- jealousy, anger, and love.

Mr. O’Brien seems militant towards Jack and blames his father for the diminishing relationship of their family. The voices inside of Jack’s mind wander and start asking deep, moral questions about life. His biggest struggle is to understand how his father says that he hates all of these things, yet does it himself. This question causes Jack to ponder these ideas throughout the entire film.

The film shifts to an older Jack (Sean Penn) who is in a state of melancholia. His answers are still unclear, but he is starting to realize that everything happens for a reason. Jack’s understanding of his father’s harshness towards him helps him appreciate the gifts in life, including all of the punishments he received as a child.

Time rushes back to when they were children again, as we find out that R.L., the middle child, died in the war at age 19. In a series of blank, hopeless stills of nothingness, which is supposed to portray limbo, older Jack finds himself lingering around and wanders the path to nothingness. He asks for his brother and God, and there his family appears, as they were before. All united, they walk around limbo aimlessly trying to find their purpose. As quoted from the film,“There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which one to follow.” This is the point of the film in its entirety–why are we here?

This film is a moving piece of poetry. Every shot could be stilled and be put in an art museum. There was a reason why Malick took his time with this film and, even though there was advice to leave out all of the historical beginnings of life–for example the dinosaurs–he stayed true to his image and developed a beautiful work of art.

The wonderful performances of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and the heart of the story, Hunter McCracken, bring this picture to life and show the audience just what life is. Malick’s romantic style really painted a beautiful picture about what our purpose of life contains.

This film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. “The Tree of Life” also won the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

1 comment

  1. Ben Anton

    This wonderful review inspired me to seek out this movie and watch it for myself. Awesome!