Year: 2011
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Country of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: PG-13
35mm, 65mm, Digital, Color, 138 mins.

Synopsis: We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child, but as his life progresses, the world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth. (Source)

I always think of Terrence Malick as a nature documentarian. Whenever characters in his films converse, I never feel like I’m watching a scripted narrative, and combined with his trademark nature photography (which always ties in poetically with his themes) his films are works of art that push the boundaries beyond what are considered feature length film narratives. Tree of Life is Malick at his most self-indulgent, but to me that’s not at all a bad thing. He’s given everything you’d expect from him, but this time with a scope and ambition that almost no filmmaker has ever dared to achieve.

It’s really hard to review this film because it doesn’t rely on traditional characterization or narrative structure. What he’s created is a sensory experience, one created to elicit deeply personal reactions for anyone watching the film. After viewing the trailer, you’d expect to see a story about a boy conflicted between parents who influence him towards two different paths in life. However, the movie is not necessarily one that starts at point A and ends at point B. Instead, what we have is a series of very intense vignettes from one short moment of a boy’s life, which are sandwiched between the birth and death of the known universe. With any other movie that might be a spoiler, but for this movie I believe what you see on screen is really just a starting point for something that each viewer has to complete using his or her own reaction to the beautifully integrated music, images, and sounds. Given the dense nature of the film’s themes and its very slow pensive pace, I can see how this is either going to be a very powerful emotional experience for people, or a very alienating one.

I also can’t get over the movie’s scope. It’s so dense with ideas and content, that reviewing it after seeing it only once just doesn’t seem right. Conversely, anyone who claims to have it figured out after one viewing is lying. Because of this, it reminded me a lot of 2001:Space Odyssey, where it was built as an experience, although that movie is completely cold compared to what Malick has created here. The “creation” scene alone made me want to laugh while I was in the theatre because of the sheer insanity of images–I couldn’t believe what I was watching. There also is a lot of very forward, brave musings about “God” although it’s never a forced debate as to the whys, wherefores, or ifs, but it really should get you thinking. In fact, there’s really no short length of philosophical ramblings or musings that this movie won’t kick-start, as I can imagine many doing a thesis or writing volumes about the themes contained within.

If I wanted to nitpick here, I could. Obviously, a movie that speaks with imagery and sensory memory isn’t one that can flat-out articulate a fully fleshed narrative or traditional character arc, and it does get a bit too new-age-ish for me towards the end, but it’s completely commendable for giving me one of the strongest reactions to a movie that I’ve EVER experienced, and for asking what I believe to be the “right” questions. I also have to give a shout out to the performances, especially with soon-to-be it-girl Jessica Chastain, who delivers her role with uncanny grace, and most of all to Hunter McCracken in his first role as the genuinely and beautifully conflicted young Jack.

With all that said, there is a definitive, overall broad message, and I could go on and on about the movie, but really everyone should experience it for themselves. Malick has dared to create, imagine, and (most of all) move people in the way I’ve never seen anyone else do in a movie. He’s created a staggeringly definitive piece of cinema that will forever divide people in the right way. Judging it as a movie, I can see flaws, but looking at it as a experience that transcends film, it’s perfect, so I’m going with the latter for my score. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m still in recovery mode.

Crome Rating: 5/5