Film Review: The Tree of Life

2011– 139mn – 12A

Directed and written by Terrence Malick. Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain. Review by Walter Nichols.

Auteur Terrence Malick returns with his first film since his disappointing retelling of the Pocahontas tale, The New World. It’s been much talked about it, it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and has been touted as a reflection on family, mankind, and the Big Bang.

One thing is sure: you won’t see another film like it this year, or most any other year either. The Tree of Life is ostensibly about a family in 1950s Texas, the eldest son of which (played as an adult in today’s world by Sean Penn) spends his life trying to reconcile with his faith, the meaning of life itself, and his difficult relationship with his father (Brad Pitt).

In fact it’s a non-linear, elliptical, impressionistic, deeply unique film about God. The Tree of Life is as close to a religious experience as any recent film has come to. Some will find it pretentious. Those who are luckier or more open will find it a profound, sincere, and magical couple of hours; an immersive piece of art that is insightful and unsettling the way the best of Stanley Kubrick’s work is. The film is a poem, a prayer, an abstract piece of art. It’s more about ideas and deep stirrings than it is about story, and at times the characters get a little lost – as do the actors, who all deliver solid but unnoteworthy performances.

Malick’s film is a baffling head-scratcher, and odds are you won’t come out of it knowing exactly how you feel about it. But it’s likely to stay with you, and grow with you, days and weeks after having seen it.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars.