Tuesday, 11 October 2011
The Tree of Life
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn
By Alan Bacchus
On second viewing Terrence Malick's divisive headscratcher has certainly elevated a notch towards greatness. But considering my consistent glum opinion of The New World,I wasn't convinced I'd swing back this way. However, The Tree of Life is different. While I appreciated the ambitiousness in theme and often astounding execution of such vision, there was a repetitiveness in the second half that tarnished this 'masterpiece'. And yet, on this second go 'round this block of the story clicked in place perfectly.
I refer to the guts of the film wherein, after the eye-opening montage sequence depicting the creation of earth leading into the birth and rearing of Sean Penn's character, Jack, the film settles down into a contained story of Jack's upbringing at age 12 by his saintly mother and rock hard father. On first viewing this half of the film seemed like an endlessly repetitive series of boyhood frolicking told with the disjointed dreamlike visual style of Malick.
But there's actually a subtle structural form to Malick's frolicking, which fits directly into his overall arc of life, death and rebirth. At first we don't see Brad Pitt's character at all involved in Jack's life. Instead, it's the mother rearing the boy from infancy to childhood. Malick dramatically shifts focus to the father at this pivotal moment in his life when the boy must turn into a man, thrusting his own ideals, motivations and discplinary tactics. Jack's relationship with his father is structured with the ebbs and flows of the boy's complex emotions. For example, there's a long sequence when the father is abroad on business, which becomes a time of joyous respite from the tough disciplinarian rigour. There's also a key sequence where Jack discovers a sexual infatuation before he can even understand what sex is. And before the loopy 'Eternity' sequence that ends the film, the arc of Jack's boyhood is completed with his father's comeuppance, which, on second viewing, is wholly satisfying and complete.
I still haven't figured the final act, which attempts to echo the final sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - a spiritual journey into the afterlife wherein Jack reconciles his bitter emotions towards his father and the death of his brother. Elder Jack's journey across those rocky landscapes and uniting with the characters from his past on the shallow ocean bed still feels contrived and on-the-nose compared to the remarkable sense of realism and authenticity we saw before these moments. But who knows? Maybe on my third viewing this scene will click into place as well.
Click HERE for my original review.
Tree of Life is avavilable on Blu-ray and DVD from EOne Entertainment in Canada.