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Year: 2011
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

For the last few decades, auteur Terrence Malick has been making films that question faith. There was The Thin Red Line which Matt Price brilliantly described as "the most spiritual war movie ever conceived," which Malick followed up with The New World, a film as much about organized religion vs. spirituality as it was a retelling of the white man's first rough years in the new world. Now, in what seems like lightning speed turn-around for a director known for taking years to complete his masterpieces, comes The Tree of Life, a much buzzed about epic forty years in the making. So what does a film that takes a lifetime to create look like? That's not really a valid question because all of Malick's films look fantastic – it's what they say, the thoughts and images that they invoke, that's of greatest importance and there have been few films in the last decade quite as powerful or moving as Tree of Life.

The narrative at the root of Tree of Life is both simple and a twisted mess following a family through, primarily, the early years of their life together: a happy couple, three children, good times and tough ones. There are also glimpses of what appears to be the future: the death of a son, turmoil and in a far more distant future, a man we can assume is one of the remaining boys dealing with his own troubles. The glimpses of the future are small, mere snapshots of what's to come but what Malick seems to be most concerned with is youth and ideas of innocence, purity and the battle between, as one of the narrators puts it "nature and grace." This idea of youth permeates through the entire film and strikes strongly in the closing scenes.


But is it really a battle or even a choice between the two? On the surface, Malick's film is a contradiction. On the one hand he's exploring and questioning the idea of faith in a greater being, the fact that this entity brings both good and bad in equal parts. It's something we can't see but that the narrators, in part the mother and in part one of the sons, questions. On the other, Malick spends nearly forty minutes outlining the big bang and the theory of evolution through a series of unforgettable images and music. Clearly opposites, or are they? I had the distinct sense that Malick's was suggesting a tie between the two; the massiveness of the universe and the immensity of the events that brought us to where we are today and this idea that there is someone behind it all. As a parallel to that connection, Malick also shoots most of the film outdoors or in locations which are large and open, cathedral-like, with camera movements that make the spaces appear even more immense and grandiose, spiritual and reminiscent of traditional houses of worship. Heck, I would have been happy to watch Malick's four hour opus on evolution; the combination of images and perfectly selected and edited music sweep you into a dream-like state of awe – it's brilliant and beautifully sets the mood and headspace for the remainder of the film. If I could have a soundtrack to my life, I'd love for Malick and music supervisor Roanna Gillespie to select the pieces.

Besides the theological questions, Tree of Life also invokes memories of childhood, of rules that were broken or bent, limits that were pushed and of events that shaped lives. I found it impossible to watch those images at a distance and found myself reminiscing about lost youth and the feeling that you can do anything and someone will always be there to love you, to care for you. And maybe that's what Malick is getting at, that we’re never completely alone.

Admittedly, some of the images and themes of Tree of Life aren't immediately apparent, it's a film that begs for multiple viewings, a film which sweeps you into it and quietly urges you to question things. It's not one that everyone will like – it's too fragmented, the transitions are awkward and some of it simply doesn't make a whole lot of sense but the ideas at its root are more than enough to satiate the thirst for a movie that involves the audience and encourages discussion not only on the technicality of what they've just seen but on the bigger questions in life.

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Neofox (3 years ago) Reply

Saw this one today in a pretty crowded theater and it was interesting to observe the general look on peoples faces after it was all over. Everyone (me included) seemed dumbfounded, amazed, almost disoriented in a way. If there ever was a life changing movie (experience?), this is definitely it.

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Mr Bass (2 years ago) Reply

To me at first look it seems incongruous, it was confusing, I wasn't sure what he was going for. Sort of scratching my head at the end of the film wondering, what did I just witness?
Granted the environmental scenes were almost breathtaking, but it appeared as a hodge posh of ideas with no clarity , you almost yearned for the dialogue. When some movies are to wordy , this one needed it to propel the movie forward, it stood still too long, as beautiful as those shots were. I give him an A for creativity and originality.... but a D for storyline and plot

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Marina (2 years ago) Reply

I agree that the plotting is unconventional but I liked that it worked in this sort of dreamlike way, almost as if someone on their deathbed was recalling key events in their life and how they fit into the larger scheme of the universe as a whole. I found it worked better on repeat viewings but you're right, it's a bit confusing and overwhelming the first time around.


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