VOD film review: Tree of Life
Ivan Radford | On 06, Sep 2013
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
Watch online: Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play
It’s a rare thing for a film to captivate an audience despite a non-existent narrative. The Tree of Life is definitely guilty of that. Guilty may be the wrong word, though, as the vivid and episodic scenes of Jack’s (Penn) childhood memories are supposed to feel arbitrary and sporadic. As erratic as it is, Jack’s memory is a potent force. It scars his later life as he randomly walks around like he’s forgotten his way to the supermarket, thinking about his time as a kid with his brother.
As the title unequivocally states, Terrence Malick’s ambitious project is about life. More specifically, it’s about a family mothered by the benign figure of Mrs. O’Brien (Chastain). The dominating dad, Mr. O’Brien, is a fitting role for Brad Pitt, constantly battling his instincts of fatherly affection. Their family life provides the backbone of the story, told through hushed narration, but Malick’s ambition is to show us more; the creation of earth and the growth of life through arresting shots of nature and grand images of microscopic biology. And whispering. Lots of whispering. Good old Terrence.
But the Tree of Life’s not all deep and heavy stuff. There are comic touches, such as a random stranger performing ridiculous mimes in front of a dumbfounded baby. And when Brad’s dad goes away on business, the children run wild, banging the doors and running around the house, free from the restraints he imposes.
At times, Terrence is tender and whimsical; a scene where a raptor chooses not to kill a dying dinosaur is one of The Tree of Life’s more striking images, while Mrs. O’Brien becomes a key figure of affection, doting on Jack’s younger brother.
These scenes are a welcome break from the generally pretentious affair that the film undoubtedly is. Without the strong narrative drive of Malick’s masterpiece The Thin Red Line, the whispered lines often feel a bit too vague, but if you focus on the sensory experience instead of waiting for a plot to come along, the Tree of Life can be surprisingly rewarding. With its sublime choice of music and staggering cinematography, it’s a gentle, jaw-dropping tale of love and loss – charted by a director at his most confident.
It’s not for everyone, but give Tree of Life a chance. You may find it grows on you.