Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tree of Life

Directed by Terrence Malick.
2011. Rated PG-13, 139 minutes.
Brad Pitt

Jessica Chastain
Sean Penn

Hunter McCracken
Laramie Eppler
Tye Sheridan
Fiona Shaw
Nicolas Gonda
Kelly Koonce
Cole Cockburn

Mr. O’Brien (Pitt) is an overbearing father. He doesn’t take any guff from his three boys, or his wife, for that matter. He doesn’t physically abuse them, but it’s clear who is in charge. Things have to be done his way or not at all. Well, actually all this comes later.

Jack (Penn) doesn’t have the greatest relationship with his dad. That’s understandable since that’s the guy in the first paragraph. Jack’s grown up to be very successful, but is agonizing over something he’s said to the old man. He mopes around looking like his dinner didn’t agree with him, calls his father and apologizes profusely. Wait, that also comes much later.

In the beginning. By the way, given what actually happens early on, in the beginning is a holy, er uh, wholly appropriate phrase. So in the beginning, Mr. O’Brien’s wife, of course she’s named Mrs. O’Brien (Chastain), receives a telegram. Yes, I said telegram. This happens during the 1950s. The telegram informs her that their oldest son has died at 19. With that, we break into an updated version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. We see something that looks like The Big Bang. There is also fire, shots of the sky, wide open plains, prehistoric creatures and so on. A number of these images include voice overs whispered by one of the three people named above. Often, they’re questioning God. For the most part, the questions boil down to “Why did You have to let him die?” These theatrics go on for an excruciating 45 minutes or thereabouts and feels like a half-baked mix of Creationism and Evolution. It desperately wants to be deep, but simply feels pretentious. I feel the same way about 2001. I hate 2001. My apologies to the legions of that movie’s fans.

Eventually, we get back to the story of the domineering father. This part of the movie holds some intrigue. It’s not that the story is so unique, it’s that the storytelling is. There aren’t many scenes that would play as conventional. We get a constant barrage of short bursts that advance the plot. They play as memories might, in quick flashes of our most unforgettable moments. It’s an interesting technique used effectively.

Unfortunately, the part of the movie I enjoy gives way to more surreal visuals. This is obviously meant to complete a number of circles. It does. However, it’s all just a bit much for me. Many will praise the movie for being different and for some stunning visuals. Director Terrence Malick does indeed deserve kudos for this. The same goes for the massive quantity of symbolism and the wonderful performance by Hunter McCracken as the young Jack. Still, a huge portion of the movie, while beautiful, bored me to tears. Yes, I know. People smarter than I have put it on many of their “Top 10” lists for 2011. It was even nominated for Best Picture. Maybe I just don’t get it. You’re probably right. I’m OK with that.

MY SCORE: 4/10

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