The Tree of Life is a different film. It is not a film that can be easily categorised. The Tree of Life isn’t shaped by any rules. It’s direction of recording challenges the norm, as does its takes on the visual and oral roles of the film. It employs rarely used camera angles, has varying levels of sound and the visual shots Malick chose push the boundaries between abstract and absurd. The Tree of Life doesn’t restrict itself to a single cinematic framework and follows no set path.
The Tree of Life achieves well. The majority of the picture is abstract at a level that works and, at times, captivates. When following the eldest son of a rural family, Malick manages to give true insight into the mind and life of the conflicted youngster. Close, rich shots give feeling to the three brothers’ emotion and child-like curiosity. His use of deep silences shape the smouldering intensity which the father holds over the obedient family. The mother’s stoicism and held tongue left her story to be told through her eyes.
Yet, the film is not one about a single family’s hardships, neither is this a Brad Pitt picture, nor a relationship drama. The Tree of Life is a grand, abstract work that overtly tackles the most grand subject of them all: life. The film looks at its subject through several lenses; it views life through the family, through nature and through the cosmos. It tackles its beginnings, its development and, most centrally, its driving force.
The film points to elements of evolution in growing micro-organisms and ancient species, but focusses most heavily on Christian religion. The family’s relationship with the almighty father recurs amongst many other biblical references. It is seen as the mother tells her boys the almighty lives in the clouds and again when she questions his presence. It would be inaccurate to say The Tree of Life is a religious film, but it is one that deals with religious themes.
However, The Tree of Life has its flaws. The occasions when the abstract moves into the absurd take some perseverance to follow and understand, but they are bearable. These instances push the boat out slightly too far. Also, I feel some aspects were left a little too vague. I support that the film didn’t spoon-feed the audience, but once again The Tree of Life walks a precarious line between being vague and being confusingly so. The picture needs you to pay it your full attention or it will run away from you. The speed in which the mood changes and the film’s choice in whispering many of its important lines makes important instances extremely easy to miss.
Try not to listen to The Tree of Life‘s many critics. It is a film that makes itself a very easy target for shouts of pretentiousness and that the film is lacking substance, but descriptions such as this would not be wholly fair. Terrance Malick has created a work of art that is constantly walking a very thin line. It treads on both sides of incredible and incongruous and should not be disregarded for its weaknesses. The Tree of Life‘s strengths make it a work that succeeds.
(To give The Tree of Life a 4 star rating would feel right, but in a style of film such as this, it may not be fitting to give it a quantative rating at all.)