Terrence Mallick has created this gargantuan memorial for a lost brother; a portrait of pain, suffering so horrifically torturous, purgatorial to experience, yet there are moments of excruciating beauty, freezing one’s breath, speeding one’s heart.
This practically script- less film is based on the premise that there two paths to follow in life, one of peace the other, nature; the former contentment the latter discontent. I found this scenario extremely problematic. Mallick depicts nature as viciously vital, an explosion of volcanic eruptions worthy of Jules Verne, Jacques Cousteau, Jurassic Park; for over twenty minutes you witness the glorious conception and birth of the universe.
“Tree of Life” commences with a quote from Job, forecasting the trials and tests of coming to terms with meaningless, uncharitable, achingly unanswerable questions and circumstances; maintaining spiritual dignity and emotional balance against the greatest odds. There are few who have reached mid-life that cannot relate to insurmountable grief, daunting challenges and the fathomless blackness that obliterates light and joy.
Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are parents of three boys living in Waco, Texas in the 1950’s. They are metaphors for the paths of “nature” and “peace”; the boys floundering between the two roads. Young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is the oldest and by far the character we empathize with and relate to; wordlessly, his expressions, actions portray monstrous frustrations and conflicts, fluctuating between love and hate. The adult Jack (Sean Penn) is troublesome, aimlessly wandering in an architectural landscape of his own making or the vast wasteland manufactured by the director.
This is not a film for the feint- hearted or those looking for escape from the monotony of daily inevitabilities; the religious message is bludgeoning, overwhelming, tiresome and massively excessive. After two hours and eighteen minutes my “prayers” were answered, penance relegated to time served, I left feeling vaguely disquieted, unnerved, unhappy, strangely unsettled.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!