By Way of Grace or Nature

The Tree of Life

Capturing the Universe’s essence

Reclusive American film maker Terrence Malick’s visually evocative epic The Tree of Life centres on a Southern American family living in the then idyllic town of Waco, Texas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. A strict and religious father, a loving and luminous mother and three boys is intimately shot and interwoven with a larger meditation on the existence of God, the universe, Birth and Death and the arc from a more pastoral existence to the technology filled society which has defined the 21st century. The father is played brilliant by Brad Pitt and the mother by Jessica Chastain each representing the balance in nature between order, discipline and change with beauty, grace and tenderness.

Malick’s vision is of a true auteur and is entirely uncompromising, creating a cinematic experience in The Tree of Life which is visually astounding, intimately beautiful and prosaic enhanced with amazing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Using a non-linear narrative, multiple levels of sound combining breathtaking music with snatches of interior monologue from his characters, the audience has to piece together the progression of this journey of a family who suffers a loss by way of nature.

There are no structured scenes but rather a series of visually sublime and breathtaking scenery intercut with a larger vision of the universe’s origins, the development of life on earth and the natural order of selection. Where Malick excels are the scenes of the three brothers innocently playing, focusing on the eldest son, Jack’s viewpoint who is deeply affected by his father’s discipline, balancing his own aggression by acts of affection for his younger siblings. Jack also appears as an older man, played by Sean Penn as an architect in Houston, still affected by the earlier grief which defined his family.

The Tree of Life is not a commercial film and if viewers enjoyed Malick’s two previous films, The Thin Red Line and The New World, then they will appreciate this beautiful yet bewildering meditation on the origins of existence on earth, yet his latest visual offering did impress the jury at Cannes walking off with the 2011 much coveted Palm d’Or. See it to make your own impressions.

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