Star rating – 9/10
Terrence Malick has created a Marmite movie in ‘The Tree of Life’. You will absolutely love it or hate it, and it has divided audiences who have apparently been either moved to tears or moved to scorning laughter, ever since it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this May.
For me it is magnificent, moving, and a deeply spiritual experience. The wonderful musical core soars above and drives the action. There is little dialogue, but it tells a moving tale of a family struggling with life, love, and death.
Brad Pitt, who is also the co-producer of the film, is phenomenal as the father who is cruel and harsh because of his own shortcomings and disappointments, but deep down loves his sons beyond words. It includes some fantastic performances by the child actors, especially Hunter McCracken as Jack. Sean Penn plays the relatively minor but central role of the grown up, executive Jack – who is obviously struggling with his childhood demons still. There are some very touching moments, like his younger brother forgiving Jack for being cruel to him; and the impromptu piano/guitar accompaniment between Pitt and one of his young boys. Jessica Chastain is their gentle, beautiful mother who lovingly tries to protect her sons against their father's rages, although she is so young and beautiful that the ageing process for her is not entirely convincing.
The cinematography is to die for, and must surely win prizes galore. This is a sumptuous film to watch. It is infuriating in parts, and unlike anything I have ever seen before, but deeply compelling and beautiful. It would probably stand two or three viewings to drink in all the gorgeous detail.
My only problem was with the CGI dinosaurs, which looked out of place and cheap. Otherwise I had no problem at all with the 20 minute creation section, which was spellbinding in its majesty, and a cosmic experience. I don’t think you have to be religious to get this film at all, but if you are it may just touch you on a deep and spiritual level. After seeing this film, it is almost reasonable to want to worship at the feet of the genius Malick.