directed by Terrence Malick
reviewed by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
The Tree of Life is more an experience than a regular movie. It’s a visually stunning, deeply moving and perfectly acted film. And if you know what to expect, you may enjoy it as much as I did.
But be warned. The Tree of Life does not have a linear narrative, and doesn’t tell a story as much as it shows it. And the regular viewer–that is, most of us–, used to be told in images and words what we are supposed to see and feel, may find this story hard to follow.
The movie starts with a flaming light and a quotation from the Book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Then we are shown a woman (Jessica Chastain) as she learns in a letter the death of her son, age 19. In her grief and despair, enhanced by the absence of sound in the subsequent images, the mother questions God’s design in such a seemingly cruel act.
From here, the movie proceeds in two alternating levels. One shows the creation of the universe, the gathering of dust to make the planets, the apparition of microscopic life, scenes from the time of the Dinosaurs and the destruction of most life on Earth as a consequence of a meteor hitting our planet.
In another level we are shown images from the life of a contemporary middle aged man (Sean Penn): his birth in the 1950s to a loving mother (Jessica Chastain), his growing up in Texas under a strict father (Brad Pitt), his rebellion as an adolescent and his relationship with his two younger brothers. The second, the one he is closer to, will die later at 19 as we learned at the beginning of the movie.
The story unfolds in pieces and bits, the way our memory works: some scenes from our past are vividly clear while others are lost. The overall picture that unfolds is both that of a unique human being and an universal story.
If the movie sounds dreadfully boring, it’s my fault. The Tree of Life maybe slow but it’s never boring.
So, in conclusion, if you want an adrenaline rush, a fast moving thriller or a light comedy, don’t go to see The Tree of Life. But if you want to take a break from a too stressful life and step in a world made out of memories and dreams. If you are ready to be moved and awed and inspired, then this movie is perfect for you.