Every once in a while, a movie will come out that polarizes people. There are no middle-of-the-ground opinions about it; people either love it or hate it. What makes these films more interesting is that typically, each side has valid arguments for their respective opinions. A movie that fits perfectly in this category is The Tree of Life, now playing at Red River Theatres.
For this critic, my initial gut-reaction was disapproval but simultaneously I knew this film was trying to say something that wasn’t immediately clear. The disapproval comes from how The Tree of Life was executed. The movie focuses on Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) who, as an adult, begins to examine his life and what lead him to the point he’s at. Jack’s up-bringing was a rough one mostly due to his father, played by Brad Pitt. Jack’s father was stern and harsh with his children while also very affectionate and caring. The relationship between Jack and his father is what fuels Jack’s quest for answers. Through this internal examination of his life, he begins to ask larger questions about life and the purpose of mankind’s existence.
Certainly, there are no easy answers to those questions and likewise, this film is not easy to digest. Whatever director Terrence Malick’s objective was in starting with the beginning of the universe and leading up to the O’Brien family in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, it comes across as pretentious and self-absorbed. Is Malick trying to make the point that everything is connected? That every single instance that has ever occurred in the known and unknown universe has a purpose and has lead us and everything else to this point? Is The Tree of Life an affirmation of the afterlife? Again, more questions that are not easy to answer even after you’ve seen the film. However, there is the notion that any film that has you talking about it for days after you’ve seen it can’t be all bad.
One thing that is easy about The Tree of Life is that it’s easy on the eyes. It is aesthetically beautiful and although you may find yourself asking, “What the hell is going on right now?” during the 20 minute long sequence of the beginning of the universe, there’s no arguing that Malick went to great lengths to make it visually stunning. Pitt is excellent as the domineering father and Hunter McCracken is impressive as the young version of Jack. Penn doesn’t really do much beyond look tired, bored and angry and since he does that in real life anyway, it’s hard say this role was a stretch and therefore worth noting.
In the end, The Tree of Life poses more questions than it does give answers and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s method of delivery is tough to cut through. Perhaps with multiple viewings this film will reveal its central statement but for the time being, it feels like one of those films where anyone who says they like it is afraid they’ll come across as stupid if they say otherwise. Swing by Red River Theatres to check this one out.