The Tree of Life
Written and Directed By: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, and Hunter McCracken
Director of Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Editors: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa, Production Designer: Jack Fisk, Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material
The following is the first part in a three part series examining Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Part II will examine some of the critical writings on the film since its première at the Cannes film festival, while Part III will explore the film more in depth after a second viewing, exploring some of the cinematic techniques and narrative strategies Malick employs through the film. This first part should be considered a “first impressions” review, and not the final word.
The Tree of Life is the fifth film from Terrence Malick, the reclusive and always brilliant filmmaker that has been long sought to be copied in his approach to filmmaking that seems so fluid and natural but impossible to recreate. Malick’s qualities as a director often bring the most pretentious and philosophical theories to writings about cienma, as critics have attempted to unravel his unquestionably difficult dichotomies in his films, whether in the focus of the camera, his use of narration, or simply his almost distanced and impassive tone. But his films are also pure joy as well, as he enraptures us in nature and the greater sense of the universe, creating what many call poetic cinema.
In many ways, The Tree of Life feels like a culmination of Malick’s concerns as a filmmaker, from the biblical and apocalyptic to the personal and existential. The film, set through three different passages that weave through and around each other, is at times Malick’s most personal film, as well as his most universal. Exploring what may be some autobiographical sketches of his own childhood, Malick attempts to unravel the nature of man and his demons, but in doing so, unlock the mysteries of the universe as well. No film could answer such questions fully, and the film only scratches the surface of our own existence, but Malick seems to be shooting for the stars in order to understand both himself and the world around him.