The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life, 2011, USA
I have a great deal of respect for this film, but I did not enjoy it. Perhaps I’m wrong in this belief, but I feel that an enjoyable film is one that you savour, and not one that you endure. I felt every moment of this film, and I went away from it without feeling any emotional connection to it. I felt very disconnected from it.
Peter Travers claims that the film was “shot with a poet’s eye”. This is probably the most accurate description of the film I’ve read. The cinematography is truly beautiful. But, may I suggest that the film is like imagism poetry? This poetry makes heavy use of image and metaphor to tell its story. Unfortunately, imagism is far from my favourite genre of poetry. It’s a genre I appreciate, but not one that I actively seek out.
The Tree of Life consists of a series of images and moments, and the audience must put them together to determine the meaning of the film. Much of the story takes place in the 1950s. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) are raising three young boys. Mr. O’Brien is strict and bitter, while Mrs. O’Brien is light and carefree. They’re representations of nature and grace, respectively, and the conflict between the two. In the present, Jack (Sean Penn) has been heavily affected by the way both his parents raised him, and by a significant incident that occurred as he was growing up. I got the sense that the entire film was from Jack’s perspective, and that the scenes in the 1950s were his memories.
There was a beautiful sequence about a half an hour into the film depicting the birth of the universe. This was one of my favourite sequences in the entire film. It was beautifully shot. My only thoughts were that it was awkwardly integrated into the film. As in…it wasn’t really integrated at all. But that was consistent throughout the entire film. It was very scattered, which is consistent with my idea that the film was from Jack’s perspective. Memories are not linear; instead, they are scattered. They’re not reliable indications of how events really occurred, because they are coloured through time and reflection.
Chastain received a nomination for her work in The Help, but I’d argue she was more worthy of a nomination for her work in The Tree of Life. She gave an excellent performance. Pitt played a character very different from any I’ve seen him play before, and I appreciated his performance, as well.
I believe The Tree of Life is worth seeing, and that it is an important film. That being said, I do not ever want to see it again. I’m sure I would have found more enjoyment in the film if I had an emotional connection to it. I felt nothing as I watched it, but this seems like the type of film you either connect with or you don’t.