Movie Review: The Tree of Life

4 Apr

Ok, if you are in the mood for a popcorn movie, this one is not for you.  The plot, what there is of it, is barely describable.  There’s no edge of your seat moments, this is not a thrill ride, or laugh-out-loud funny, and we’re definitely not in for a romp.

So what is it?  It’s a meditation on family through the lens of one contemporary man looking back at his childhood from the fifties.  We know that he has a brother who dies later, and that his father works at a plant, and that’s about it.  Oh yeah, and in the beginning of the movie we go through the whole history of time in like 15 minutes.

So what we have are visions–the mother floating, a boy buried alive, things like that.   There’s some really nice scenes that just drip with meaning, one that pops into my head is one where the mother catches a monarch butterfly, she delights in it, it falls to the ground, and she watches it concerned as a cat stalks in the background.

The Tree of Life has an authoritative father as well, the one who has hard lessons and is constantly on the children’s backs about every little thing.  He’s not abusive, but he’s pretty harsh, while at the same time we see how hard he cares for his sons and how he pushes them to be successful in what he views as a dangerous world.

The mother is a creative free-spirit who just acts with delight.  Her world is full of play and wonder.  She lives for her children, bringing them endless fun and gentleness wherever she goes.

However if you think that we’re into a mom is good dad is bad story, you’re wrong.  The mother can only exist with the father, here.  She is too soft to be in the world on her own–the protection that the father gives allows her to be playful and childlike.   If you pay attention to the opening scene, the one where the son dies, the Father is very upset but able to go on, while the mother is broken.  She cannot handle tragedy quite so well.

The mother says love everything and everybody; the father says keep your guard up.  And when they work, it’s a beautiful system, for however the mother needs protection, the father needs to be softened, to have reasons to be tender, to connect with the world around him.  If it sounds particularly gendered, it kind of is–however, it is set in the fifties where gender roles are firmer, and also the movie’s not saying that this is the ideal way to be, it’s just their way to be.

If we had to take a story arc, it’s how the boy turns from his mother to his father around adolescence, and then turns back the other way in middle age.  That’s what I really love about this movie–it shows growth going on from birth to death, everybody in it is continually evolving, just like the once celled creatures in the beginning.

Don’t expect simple answers–this movie does not give them.  If you can turn off your critical mind and just experience the movie will sit in your brain, and little images will flicker now and then.  The amazing thing about stories is how they can rearrange your internal furniture.  Watch with an open mind.  Then think.

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2 Responses to “Movie Review: The Tree of Life”

  1. CMrok93 April 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    Good review. The images are beautiful and the story is powerful, but Malick does get a bit crazy at times. Just a bit though. Still worth the watch as a piece of art.

    • pewterbreath April 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

      Yes, sometimes I felt both under and over stimulated at the same time. Art–completely.

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