Described as a drama, a fantasy, and a sci-fi film all wrapped up into a not so tiny package (the film runs 138 minutes), The Tree of Life possesses all the weirdness of David Lynch film without the endearing trademark of earnestness that graces his work. A mash-up of slow-movie style film-making spliced with heavy-handed scoring, The Tree of Life is one of the most exasperating films the viewer will have seen in a while.
The acting in the film was good…I guess. The most memorable performances came out of the children (Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, and Tye Sheridan) while Brad Pitt as the angry father was rendered impotent. The wife and mother played by Jessica Chastain is limp, sachharine, and ultimately too bizarre to really get into during this dull film. Why Sean Penn is in this movie is anybody’s guess. Not that I don’t always wish for Spicoli to pop up in a movie but in this case I was practically begging for his appearance so the film’s narrative could be salvaged. It is my theory that while the actors did the best they could, perhaps thespians of less notoriety would have put more focus on the story rather than the production.
The Tree of Life is less like a movie than it is a late-century contemporary painting put into motion. Some movies feel like books and some would have been better off left in book form. The Tree of Life feels that way. The film is so concerned with producing an aura that it fails to develop any real legs of its own. The themes in the movie are mature and immature coterminous. The viewer is shown the loss of innocence, an overbearing father, and the death of a child, mostly through the eyes of a boy, creating the film’s most compelling appeal. Maybe it is not the most original subject matter but certainly there is some meat to this story. In a way, director Terrence Malick takes the easy way out by giving himself a nearly impossible task and then expects the viewer to admire his effort rather than notice his failure.
The Tree of Life‘s script doesn’t help the former’s case and ameliorates the latter’s. Little snippets of dialogue and voice-overs are used to create a cosmic atmosphere but it feels like pretentiousness slowly released into an unventilated room. This choice in narrative bloviation only takes more life out of an already mundane film.
One bright spot in the film is the cinematography. It can be a bit much at times, looking more like a Calvin Klein advertisement than a Hollywood film but because The Tree of Life is a very visual movie this ocular focus was necessary. That being said, I am not sure this was the best way to portray the film’s subject matter and I think the film suffers for it in spite of this feast for the eyes.
Overall I do not recommend this film. I won’t deny that this movie may have had something interesting to say but it is so busy strangling itself with other elements that the viewer never really gets to hear it.