The Tree of Life

(2011)

Genres: Drama, Sci-Fi

Review: The Tree of Life

Transcript for Review: The Tree of Life

IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY:
Yeah, which leads us in; actually very well, to our next film THE TREE OF LIFE. Now, d espite having only released four features in the last forty years, the enigmatic writer-director Terrence Malick has earned an enviable reputation and a devoted cult following. His fifth and most ambitious feature to date is THE TREE OF LIFE, an attempt to render the story of a family living in Malick’s hometown of Waco, Texas in the 1950s on a cosmic scale. The family has three sons born just a few years apart; their parents appear to them as unstable forces of nature. The father, played by Brad Pitt, is a failed musician working a corporate job and a frustrated man who alternates affection with bullying.

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Their mother, played by Jessica Chastain is a playful enabler, seemingly removed from the world around them.

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Jumping millions of years through time, THE TREE OF LIFE makes little distinction between the present—where we see one of the brothers as an adult played by Sean Penn—and the past, or between family and mythology, between reality and dreams, or between the fleeting nature of human life and the vast history of the universe. Not all of it works equally well, but I can think of very few other movies made in the last few decades that have been this ambitious or this driven to re-shape just exactly what a movie can be.

CHRISTY LEMIRE:
Yeah, I would give it a big thumbs up. And I say that even knowing that I don’t necessarily understand it all. And I may not necessarily understand it a second time or five years from now. All I know is it deeply changed my mood for the rest of the day.

IGNATIY:
We could do a show on this, on this movie.

CHRISTY:
I would love to do an entire show on this movie, and we would still not even scratch the surface because we keep seeing different things over and over again. Um, it is beautiful and strange and daring and pretentious and baffling, but gorgeous and always so challenging. And I never knew where it was going cause really; it’s like defiantly plot-less.

IGNATIY:
Then there are all these layers of other things besides the family story, you know, there is the Book of Job, which gets referenced a lot. You see the evolution of life on earth in one scene of the film. There are all these dreams. There’s a little bit of Oedipus Rex going on, and you know, this movie’s got dinosaurs in it. It’s got dinosaurs folks.

CHRISTY:
There are dinosaurs. And, when I heard there were dinosaurs, I was like “Really, we’re going to have the cosmos and dinosaurs and Sean Penn!” But they all work.

IGNATIY:
But then they all work together. And part of the reason it works is, I think, that central drama, I think, is realized with such detail. I mean we don’t know very much about Malick’s life. He’s famously reclusive. Um, but he’s from Waco, Texas. He’s about the age that the characters would be in the film. You sort of assume that a lot of this must be based on his memories of childhood. And if it is, it’s really, it’s really personal. It seems almost like you’re prying into someone else’s memories.

CHRISTY:
But there are like wispy bits of sight and sound and not always entirely even concrete moments.

IGNATIY:
Yeah

CHRISTY: 
Um

IGNATIY:
It’s more sensations than really full scenes.

CHRISTY:
Yeah the word impressionistic is easy to use but it is that. And it’s gorgeous and unlike anything else out there. Um, Brad Pitt is pretty great in this. It’s kind of an unlikely villainous role for Brad Pitt.

IGNATIY:
I don’t view him as that villainous in this film. I think…

CHRISTY:
Okay, he’s intimidating and kind of cruel and abusive. Yeah.

IGNATIY:
He’s intimidating, cruel and abusive, but there is also an affectionate side that we see to him. And he’s very conflicted. I think, both of the parents have, um, you know, a lot of problems of their own.

CHRISTY:
And then Sean Penn is one of the kids as an adult. Not nearly enough Sean Penn, he like broods on the beach. That’s about it. He gets like two lines of dialogue.

IGNATIY:
He rides an escalator.

CHRISTY:
And talks on the phone. And the kid who plays him as a kid is excellent. He’s really the star of this thing.