Tree of Life

Last night I finally had a chance to see the new film "Tree of Life."  I've had plenty of time to read about the film and wonder.  I went in thinking I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I never anticipated such magical obscurity.  I left the theatre somewhat perplexed and speechless, not quite sure what to make of it all and wishing I could sit down with the film's writer and director, Terrence Malick, wondering what he was thinking as he filmed and edited the "Tree of Life."

Like many of Malick's films, it is a quiet, introspective movement, with more imagery than narrative - more like a poem than a novel.  The "Tree of Life" imagines the beginnings of the universe, considers the nature of humanity, and ponders some of life's biggest questions.  The film opens with a beautiful dialogue on grace and nature:  "There are two ways through life, the way of nature, and the way of grace.  You have to choose which one you'll follow."

"Tree of Life" more or less follows a family in the 1960s with three young boys, a very authoritarian father (Brad Pitt), and a loving mother, who wants nothing more than to offer her boys all the beauty the world has to offer.  Young actress, Jessica Chastain, plays the mother and in my opinion, steels the show.  Her own beauty is simply captivating, and she is a thread of grace throughout the film, offering us a balance of the whimsical against her husband's severity.  I realized later that the majority of the movie is filmed outside - it will make you ache for an opportunity to explore all of nature's wonders.  The scenery is mesmerizing, the story heartbreaking, and the music magical. Composer Alexandre Desplat captivated me with his soundtrack, a flawless companion to the film's images.

One thing I didn't expect was such a spirit of sadness.  I had tears in my eyes as the film came to a close.  Malick allowed me to feel the weight of loss, doubt, and fear experienced by this family, essentially as representatives of humanity.  I left feeling as though I had encountered a bit of the brokenness of humankind.

The film is far from perfect.  I am still a bit confused and perplexed.  I wonder about some of Malick's editing choices. I feel better about the first half of the film than the latter.  And I am puzzled by Malick's conclusion of the story.  The couple sitting behind me made it very clear that it is not for everyone, and it will challenge the understanding of even the greatest lovers of art film.  But I applaud his creativity and confidence.  He had the audacity to create a film that would confuse and awe.  He must have known that people would walk out of the theatre and many people would wish they'd taken a film course, but he went ahead with it anyway.  Creating a visual masterpiece, if nothing else, and offering us all a bit of wonder in a world of great expectations.

Near the conclusion of the film, a voice whispers a word of counsel:

"Unless you love, your life will flash by."

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