I like my movies with a little content. Oh sure, now and then I may seem a bit shallow as I pant over some actor’s glorious abs, and a good super hero flick always makes me happy (how much longer till The Avengers?), but there is something to be said for falling into a few hours of delicious symbolism and random references of the primal beginnings of life, especially if they are gorgeously imagined as bursts of spectacle and life forms that glow like a solar flare explosion reflected in the iris of a dinosaur’s eye. I’m not really sure what that sentence means, either. Welcome to The Tree of Life!
This is a film that demands your full attention. Do not attempt to watch this while balancing messy snacks on your lap or updating your Facebook account in a darkened theatre, because if you look away, you may miss an important plot point like the creation of the universe or the fact that Sean Penn is the grown up son even though he is on the screen at the same time as his younger self.
At the heart of the film, the story centers on a young family in Texas in the mid fifties, with Jessica Chastain as the nurturing mother representing grace and Brad Pitt as the rigid father who stands for nature. The film focuses on the anguish of the oldest boy of three who is trapped between love for his mother and the knowledge that he is most like his father. But that storyline is only a small part of the film, as it is intercut with scenes of creation and extinction and afterlife and Sean Penn looking angry. We are all insignificant in the bigger picture, and this is clearly meant to be a Big Picture. It will make you question what your place is in the whole grand scheme of things, and also wonder where they found the kid who plays the middle son who looks exactly like a mini-Brad Pitt. Hope that wasn’t a surprise for Angelina.
I can’t say that I loved this film, but I don’t think that was the director’s intent. It did make me contemplate and ponder my existence, and the far-out special effects suggest that this could be another Fantasia for the trippin’ college set. The film gets pretty swirly as the cosmos is created, and the awe kind of teeters on the edge of queasy, so be prepared for that.
I found myself thinking a lot about this movie after I saw it, and that’s more than I can say about most of the films I’ve seen this year. And then I got this song in my head and I cannot stop singing it.
You take the good, you take the bad,
you take them both and there you have
The Tree of Life, the Tree of Life!
There’s a time you got to go and show
You’re growin’ now you know about
The Tree of Life, the Tree of Life.
When the world never seems
to be livin up to your dreams
And suddenly you’re finding out
the Tree of Life is all about you!
Kind of spooky how well it works, isn’t it?