About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Film Review: "The Tree of Life" (2011) directed by Terrence Malick 5/5

Reclusive director Terrence Malick will leave you speechless with his latest film (and arguably his greatest film). Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, "The Tree of Life" daringly spans thousands of years in an epic film about the human soul and the dichotomy between nature and grace.
To understand "The Tree of Life", it is helpful to understand the iconic master director behind the film. His debut film "Badlands" (1973) brought him on the map as a young auteur director with a visionary eye for beauty. His sophomore film "Days of Heaven" (1978) only confirmed his eye for beauty on film when it won the Oscar for best cinematography. After that historic film, Malick disappeared for twenty years until he resurfaced again with his third film "The Thin Red Line" (1998). Naturally, "The Thin Red Line" was not just the war film it appeared to be on the outside, but instead it was a spiritual journey through the heart of men during wartime and the ever-present force of nature which watches human inequity from afar, but is truly in the heart of all conflict. "The New World" (2005) culminates his work leading up to "The Tree of Life", and upon looking at his filmography, it becomes clear that his entire career as a filmmaker has lead up to this single film.
"The Tree of Life" combines every topic Malick has ever meditated upon, and he approaches the spirit with patience and his ever-present eye for natural beauty.
Similar to "The Thin Red Line" thematically, "The Tree of Life" thrives upon the divide between "the way of nature and the way of grace" as two characters personify both sides. The mother (Jessica Chastain) is a living embodiment of grace and love, while the father (Brad Pitt) is a personification of the way of nature as his character has faced failure and been hardened by the cruel world around him (this is also possibly his greatest acting performance ever). Set in the 1950s, the main character of the film is arguably Pitt and Chastain's eldest son, Jack (played by Sean Penn and Hunter McCracken) as he is beginning to enter his teen years and becomes aware of the differences between the people in the world around him.
When news comes forward that one of Pitt and Chastain's children has died, the film travels back through their lives as a young couple revealing their differences and overcoming grief in the process. With the film structured as a prayer, the film is elevated to a film-watching experience like nothing ever seen before.
Everything from God creating the universe, to abstract depictions of birth; the main characters blindly walk through life with faith that everything will work out.
Wrapped in beautiful dream-like cinematography, this film conveys childhood like no other film before it. Even though my parents weren't even alive in the 1950s, I still relate to everything seen in the film as childhood is depicted by the soul of children rather than the events in the lives of children.
The soundtrack in this film is a beautiful combination of classical compositions (which is very fitting to Brad Pitt's character, who is a failed musician), and though an original soundtrack would have been wonderful, the music in this film combined with the imagery is perpetually tear-worthy.
"The Tree of Life", for many, is a polarizing film, but it is impossible to argue that it is a masterpiece made by one of the greatest modern auteurs of our times. This is Terrence Malick's "The Mirror" (as made by Andrei Tarkovsky) and is clearly competing with Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (and is far superior than Kubrick's, in my opinion), but it is an experience all on its own.

My ranking: 5/5 stars

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