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The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick,2011)

The Tree of Life is quite possibly Terrence Malickís magnum opus, as it might very well be a culmination of his entire oeuvre. However short his filmography may be, there is a strong overarching theme throughout his work. Malick has always taken a great deal of care crafting his films; a span of seven years passed between The Thin Red Line and The New World, if that tells you anything. But Malick has made an undeniable impression on those who have had the privilege of watching his films. The Tree of Life is no different; it has divided audiences, much like The New World, but that is perhaps the early sign of a masterwork. Slowly and quietly, his films have had an impact on those same people--whether they enjoyed it or not--while he goes unnoticed by most of the population. Letís face it though, thatís how he wanted it from the very beginning.

Summing up The Tree of Life is nearly impossible, especially within the confines of a simple, straightforward review. Itís Malickís most abstract film with no real narrative to speak of. Instead, it moves in mood and tone, and by swirling, kaleidoscopic imagery. Reminiscent and intensely personal, he has crafted a film about life and all of its complexities, about growing up, fatherhood and motherhood and even the creation of the universe, which all comes together in a mosaic of life--much like the filmís poster. It sounds intimidating, yet Malickís touch is delicate and precise. Emmanuel Lubezkiís cinematography is breathtaking to watch, and Alexandre Desplatís soundtrack is both subtle and fitting.

Set in the 1950Ďs, in the midwest, The Tree of Life follows a boy and his family (the OíBrienís) through a tumultuous, unsettling time of their lives filled with tragedy and suppressed feelings--but, of course, it isnít without its share of beauty. The chief conflict in the film is Jackís (Sean Penn) problematic feelings towards his father, played by Brad Pitt. However, this is much later in life, and weíre only given glimpses as to how his life has changed and how he interacts--or doesnít--with the rest of the world. Jack appears withdrawn, disillusioned with his life. This is primarily the driving force of the film, which is entirely a reflection on his past relationships with his mother and father and his siblings. Difficulty with the father figure is one of the most common symptoms of a characterís psyche, in all forms of art. Malick approaches this differently, however; instead of vilifying the father, he gives him a sense of humanity--this was done so well, it nearly brought me to tears. Balancing out the father, Jessica Chastain plays the mother, whose affection contrasts the fatherís nature quite well.

The Tree of Life is the work of someone who is setting out to discover and explore, and only Malick could have created such a monumental piece of cinema. This is Terrence Malick at his very purest. A seemingly evanescent piece of filmmaking that truly had a lasting impression on me. Itís been weeks since Iíve seen it, yet the images still play out in my mind as if I had just finished watching it. The Tree of Life is a lasting piece of art, that wonít likely be forgotten any time soon. Malick, along with very few others, are pushing cinema to new heights, all the while creating something truly personal and special.