Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are Your Thoughts and Memories Narratives or Images?

Terrence Malick's new movie, "The Tree of Life", has little narrative or dialog but is highly visual. Those who seek stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end, combined with lots of action and dialogue, will find the film long, boring and pretentious.

Imagine this - there is a day in your life that has made such a disturbing and lasting impression on you that, every year on that day, you find yourself thinking back all those years and pondering what it all means. You think about everything that happened before that fateful day, wonder why it happened, question your life choices, and even vaguely begin to think about the meaning of life itself. These thoughts don't pour out in a nice complete narrative but come out piecemeal with snatches here and there and one thing making you think of another. That's what this movie tries to capture.

Sean Penn (Jack) appears in glimpses as the older version of a troubled boy (played by Hunter McCracken) whose younger brother died at the age of 19. They were part of a suburban Texas family with three young boys growing in the 1950s. The film shows Jack, as he apparently does every year on the anniversary of his brother's death, trying to make sense of it all (left). Thinking about their lives together as boys. Reflecting on his parents' grief at the loss. Wondering why his gifted and angelic brother (right with Brad Pitt as the father) died before him.

'The Tree of Life' is being compared to Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' because of its epic scope and evocative images. The film captures the pall of tragedy and its aftermath years later, combined with a coming-of-age story, questioning life choices, and exploring everything from the existence of God and why bad things happen to good people to the glory of nature and modern disillusionment.

Young Jack questions God along with the stern parenting style of his father (Brad Pitt), and eventually realizes that the contrasting ideologies of his father and mother will forever wrestle inside him. We are animals but also something more - the film presents two opposing ways through life: brute nature and spiritual grace.

Click on the heading above to watch the trailer.

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