A depressed middle aged man named Jack (Sean Penn) recalls his childhood of being raised in Texas in the 1950's. While he grew up, he struggles to find his identity due to his parents polarizing views of life. His father (Brad Pitt) is a distant and strict man who seems to represent the harshness of the world. His mother (Jessica Chastain), on the other hand, is nurturing and loving and seems to represent forgiveness and grace. The film also explores many other difficult truths such as the origins of our world, faith, God, and the meaning of our existence.
What Worked - The first act of The Tree of Life is where I believe the movie is at its strongest. It begins with Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien receiving tragic news of the untimely death of one their sons. Mrs. O'Brien is now seeking answers from God as to why her son died which leads into an awe inspiring sequence that shows the formation of our universe. It's so full of beautiful and humbling images that it's nearly impossible not to get a real sense of wonder. I also really enjoyed how this act plays with the use of silence along with angelic music. In my opinion, stunning is not nearly a strong enough word to describe the first act of The Tree of Life. Later on in the second act, we are finally introduced to the seemingly normal O'Brien family. Brad Pitt really does a marvelous job representing a stern disciplinarian father. Jessica Chastain does equally compelling work, as she's able to portray more heartfelt emotions without the use of any words. Their family feels real and relatable. I also appreciated how the director, Terrence Malick seems to capture perfectly the perspective a young child has on the world. The cinematography and music through out the rest of the film are self evident that The Tree of Life is truly a beautiful film.
What Didn't Work - The family problems never seem to come to any worthwhile conclusion. No one really grows from their experience. The family just continues doing what they've always done. It seemed to just go on and on pointlessly, making this reviewer lose a lot of tolerance for the film. I was also really frustrated by Sean Penn's performance. He had about three speaking lines and just looked sad in the whole movie and for that he probably made more money than I do in an entire year. In the third and final act, we're shown what I can only assume to be an afterlife. All we're presented with are members of the O'Brien family walking around in beautiful dreamlike sequences with little to no dialogue that seem to have no rhyme or reason. It was extremely hard to know exactly what is going on. As soon as I had a theory in my head I was shown another image that would conflict with my current theory, frustrating me all the more.
Overall - The Tree of Life is an ambitious and beautiful film that seeks to enlighten it's audience on many noble truths, but unfortunately the movie never spells out with these truths. For the most part The Tree of Life seems to polarize its audience into either loving it or hating it. It was said at its premiere it received mixed reaction of cheers and boos. If you're looking for a film that is sure to provoke engaging conversation after the film ends, then The Tree of Life may be for you. However, you also may give up on it before you get there.
A quote from the movie -
Mrs. O'Brien - Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.
So what do you think? Did I just miss the whole point?