Film Review: Tree of Life (2011)

| 28 June , 2011 | 1 Reply

Keeva Stratton

Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

So, you\’re contemplating whether or not to take some time out of your busy life to watch Tree of Life, feted as the new cinematic masterpiece by the famously reclusive, critically celebrated art-house director, Terrence Malick – which is currently in Official Competition at the Sydney Film Festival. To help your decision-making process, I have decided to compile a pros and cons list.

At your next night out with your friends, you get to wait for precisely the right moment in the conversation: “Oh, guess what, everyone, I just saw Malick\’s Tree of Life. You know, the genius eccentric director who\’s made only five films in thirty-eight years. Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line… And Tree of Life is just absolutely brilliant. It won the Palm d\’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, y\’know.”

Also, the film\’s got Brad Pitt. How can you go wrong? Sure, he\’s not in his patented eye candy mode, but he puts in what\’s easily one of his finest acting performances.

More seriously – Tree of Life is, quite honestly, a beautiful film. Malick has long been famous for his painterly images, and here, you have what\’s undeniably a visually ravishing treat for your eyes, underscored with sweeping music that fits perfectly.

But Tree of Life doesn\’t have a clear linear narrative structure, and the film is an impressionistic, existentialist work that muses deeply about the exigencies of life. From what I can make out, the story goes roughly like this. A family, living in a quiet Texas town in the 1950s, has three sons. We follow the family as they go though their lives, joys, and travails. We follow, in particular, the eldest son, and the relationship with his father (Brad Pitt), who is at times harsh and demanding, while his mother (a luminescent Jessica Chastain) provides a sense of balance and comfort. Then, tragedy strikes, and the family mourns the death of one of the sons. We then flash forward to the eldest son, now middle-aged (played by Sean Penn) and worn down by life, clearly grappling with memories and the painful legacies left by his past.

In some quarters, the film\’s been accused of being pretentious, with hushed confessional voice-overs, a difficult-to-follow story arc, artily strung together scenes – the most memorable of which is a flashback sequence to the very beginnings of time, with the formation of the earth, the emergence of life, and even dinosaurs thrown in for good measure.

My verdict? Actually, the pros and cons aren\’t that easily separated, and Tree of Life will no doubt be one of those love/hate films that will be hotly debated by film-goers. While there are a few patchy moments of tedium, the film is visually magnificent, conceptually audacious, and certainly thought-provoking. If you love cinema, it\’s well worth going to see Tree of Life.

Tree of Life is screening at the Sydney Film Festival, which runs from 8-19 June 2011. Find out more at and hits regular cinemas this Thursday June 30th.


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  1. Film Review: Tree of Life | Quip Creative | 19 July , 2011

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