Last week saw the release of the much anticipated film by Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. The winner of the Palme D’Or, the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it is only Malick’s sixth film as director in his forty-odd year career.
There is no strong narrative to The Tree of Life, but instead a series of scenes, shots and images that look at memory, childhood, religion, space, time and life on earth. A bit art-farty, I hear you cry. Not at all.
There is a story to follow, albeit one that doesn’t lead you by the hand.
The human focus of The Tree of Life is Jack, a boy growing up in 1950s Texas with two younger brothers, his strict father (Brad Pitt) and loving, religious mother (Jessica Chastain).
In the present, adult Jack is played by Sean Penn. He looks back on his transition from child in a child’s world to child in an adult’s world and tries to make sense of his life in the past and present.
As the patriarch Mr O’Brien, Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances. Gone are the good looks and charm, replaced my big specs, a protruding bottom lip and an awkward walk.
Pitt is almost unrecognisable. He plays the intimidating, controlling father perfectly.
The three young actors playing his sons certainly look terrified of him.
Although Pitt and the lovely Jessica Chastain are marvellous on screen, it’s Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan as their children who should take the acting plaudits.
With little in the way of help from the script, these youngsters convey the confusions and frustrations of childhood in their mannerisms, gestures and expressions. There’s no over-the-top stage school gurning in sight.
With the help of the child actors and the dreamy way it’s shot and lit, The Tree of Life manages to depict memories of childhood, as well as show the things you imagine as a young child, like where you go when you die.
Look closely, because although it might seem like there isn’t a lot going on in this film, it’s crammed full with questions.
Beauty is everywhere in The Tree of Life, especially in the fifteen-minute interlude that slides into place half an hour into the film.
With a soaring soundtrack and an ethereal voiceover, Malick gives us shots of solar systems, stars and an eclipse, dinosaurs, lava and jelly fish.
All these seemingly random scenes are shot beautifully, with a great use of colour. The rushing and roving camera propels you through space and time.
What’s all this got to do with a little boy growing up in 1950s America? Well, it’s life.
It’s nature and living and dying and trying to work out what it’s all about. At two hours and twenty minutes, The Tree of Life is not a popcorn movie.
But if you’re in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, this is definitely the film for you.