The Tree of Life (Director: Terrence Malick): When I first saw Terrence Malick’s long-awaited fifth film back in the spring, I simply couldn’t write about it. Certainly still in the top spot for my Film of the Year, it hasn’t become any easier to articulate my thoughts about a film so personal and yet so universal. I can say with certainty, though, that the film looks every bit as stunning on Blu-ray as it did projected theatrically, and that means that you should certainly add it to your collection.
The Tree of Life has been described as Malick’s most personal film yet, featuring a family very much like his own in a time and place very similar to where and when he grew up. At the heart of the story is a tragedy, the loss of a beloved child, and the oldest son’s remembrances of his brother, his own childhood, and especially his relationships with his mother and father. As young Jack (Hunter McCracken) leaves childhood behind for the turbulence of adolescence, he’s torn between the comfort of his mother’s (Jessica Chastain) unconditional love and his more conflicted feelings toward his strict father (Brad Pitt). There is an ever-present narrator, though the voices change. Sometimes it’s the voice of his mother, sometimes his father, and sometimes you wonder if it might even be God.
Quite apart from the remembrances of Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn), there is an entire sequence visualizing the formation of the Earth and the beginning of life itself. Malick worked with special effects expert Douglas Trumbull to make these look as natural as possible, depending on computers only when absolutely necessary. The imagery is stunning throughout, both the special effects stuff and the warmly nostalgic cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who worked with Malick on his previous film The New World.
The Tree of Life is Malick at his most Malickian, and by that I mean that plot and character are not revealed through traditional narrative, but more by the accumulation of details and impressions. Music is important and the camera sweeps around like a paintbrush on a canvas. The voiceovers can seem a bit ponderous to someone not expecting a film about the Big Questions, but if you’re prepared to be stirred emotionally, existentially and, dare I say spiritually, this film will simply knock you out.
The most helpful thing I can say about this film is that it’s a mirror. What you end up thinking or feeling about it will be very much determined by what you bring into the experience. That’s why I’m so excited to have such a beautiful work of art in such a pristinely presented package. The Tree of Life is a film that will deeply reward patience and repeated viewings, at least for me.