Monday, July 18, 2011

“The Tree Of Life”: From Waco To The Cosmos

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” has it all–literally. The film depicts the lives of the O’Brien family in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt), a frustrated musician turned company man, rules his three sons with a tough love that frustrates his wife (Jessica Chastain), whose ethos is love and compassion. The narrative focuses on the oldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken), who grows up haunted by his relationship with his father and eventually by the death of one of his brothers in military action. When we see Jack as a middle-aged architect (Sean Penn) working amidst soulless corporate towers, it is evident that his inner confusion remains.

The film portrays the suburbs of the middle of the last century from a perspective that elevates the scenes of childhood into iconic moments. This sense of the universal is also evoked by Jack's and his mother's questions addressed to God. Whether these questions are answered depends on the viewer's perspective; their questions, however, are shown to be both personal and part of life's ultimate mysteries. With magnificent cinematography and a score by Alexandre Desplat to match, we are launched from this family to the cosmos, taking in volcanoes, vast oceans, the universe, and then back into the O’Briens' kitchen. The O’Briens become every family, part of the space-time continuum. Lest this sound too “cosmic,” Malick involves us enough in their everyday concerns so that the micro and macro are held in balance and ultimately contemplated in awe.

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