Film Review: The Tree of Life

Some will be utterly captivated by The Tree of Life. For others, it will be the longest 2 hours 18 minutes of their lives. But most will probably fall somewhere in between these two polemics.

Living with his parents and two younger brothers in 1950s Texas, Jack is on the cusp of adolescence. He has a sometimes difficult relationship with his father, which continues into his adult years. Over the course of time, Jack’s interactions with his parents and his siblings change…

To fully engage with The Tree of Life, an emotional reaction is really required. Without this, it is difficult to become involved with the film. Moreover, Terrence Malick’s film may feel overlong or meandering for those who do not feel an emotional response to it. Nevertheless, Tree of Life has many admirable qualities, which are enough to compensate viewers who do not feel a resonance with the picture.

Malick’s direction is sublime. He appears not to have overlooked a single detail. Every shot is carefully crafted; the care that went into making the film is palpable. Furthermore, with Tree of Life, Malick has extracted great performances from his cast, getting the best out of his actors.

There is something incredibly natural about the family at the centre of the film. Their behaviour, personalities and interactions with one another are completely convincing. The story seems incidental, but only because that is the way it has been fashioned. There is some nice contrasts between the central narrative and the more abstract elements of the film.

Tree of Life is comparable to an exercise in photography. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki capture some absolutely beautiful imagery. There is a definite sense of awe with the shots of the planet and space. However, the cinematography is just as great in the intimacy with that it creates. Particularly in the scenes of Jack as a toddler and small child, the film produces some wonderful and authentic-looking shots.

Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Jack’s mother. She conveys the warmth of the character well, as well as her ethereal nature. Brad Pitt is also great as Mr O’Brien. His interaction with the boys is wholly believable. Hunter McCracken is excellent as the child Jack, offering an accomplished performance.

The Tree of Life should be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate the magnificent visuals. Those who find resonance in the film will likely be moved. Those who do not may be put off by the glacial pace. Even without a connection to the themes, Malick’s film is a worthwhile endeavour.