Published Jun 09, 2011Refracted light peers through the darkness in a subdued amber wave; a mother (Jessica Chastain) in '50s suburbia experiences the loss of a son; her non-diegetic cries are heard faintly over an expansive, fecund landscape; a family runs through a sprinkler; and a man in modern times (Sean Penn) despondently awakes to the daily routine in a cold, steely urban jungle.
Whispered snippets of philosophical ideology foundations, defining nature and grace ― the female and male counterparts, sacrificing id impulse for the greater good and giving into it, respectively ― create a visual, lilting lyrical poem of life's fleeting beauty and insignificance, fuelled by emotion rather than exposition.
Terrence Malick's magnum opus ― a deeply personal film detailing the coming-of-age and identity-shaping signifiers of a young boy (Hunter McCracken) afraid of his tyrant father (Brad Pitt) simultaneously comforted and disappointed by his passive, caring mother ― mirrors the fragility and incidental triviality of a single human life with the grandiosity of how all life as we know it came to be.
This preliminary imagery of single-celled organisms, meteors crashing into Earth and the development of nature creates a lulling sense of calm, heightened by a simple but touching score that invests us in the breathtaking cinematography of colours swirling through worldly possibilities. This gives way to birth and the formation of a family, documented through visual snippets of the quotidian, both good and bad, revealing without telling how two different parents shape the world of their three sons, each distinctive in their emotional scales.
It's these quiet moments of familial defiance, hinted at through imagery that respects the audience enough to put two-and-two together, wherein children begin to see the folly in their parents and learn that trust is inevitably betrayed, that gives Tree of Life its unique power.
Even though the ephemeral nature of human existence is on display, detailed in the past, present and afterlife, the unifying connectivity and importance of love, juxtaposed with the coldness of fierce will, creates the feeling that while stupid and painful, life can also be infinitely beautiful. (eOne)