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A film of life and meaning beyond it
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
The Tree of Life (2011) is a philosophical and unworldly film like no other. Although Terrence Malick (writer and director) is known for his use of poetic images, examining the psychological and emotional states of characters, this film brought these themes to an eerie, frightening and supernatural level, which overall was fantastic.
It embraces us with emotions of bereavement, and the confusion of our limitations as human beings when trying to comprehend a world beyond this one. Etched with symbolism and vivid imagery, it gives you the impression of another world that is not tangible like this one. Awareness that you are watching this film on a screen wholeheartedly leaves you. We sink into the emotional and mental despair of the characters through the artful vision of this film maker. The film, starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, narrates the origins and meanings of life through a middle aged man’s childhood memories of his family living in Texas in the 1950s.
Imagery speculates the origins of the universe and the inception of life. The middle aged man Jack, is the oldest of three sons. He finds himself disillusioned and a lost soul in the modern world whilst he reminisces over the innocence of his childhood and the death of his brother R.L., who was just nineteen when he died. He questions the existence of faith whilst seeking to make peace with a complicated relationship he shared with his father (Brad Pitt).
The theme of grace or nature reoccurs over and over. The characters can choose grace or nature: trying not to please themselves or only wanting to please themselves. Grace accepts insults and injuries whilst nature finds ways to be unhappy when the world is shining around it. The themes are embodied in each of the parents. Mrs O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) is gentle and nurturing, believing the world is a place of wonder. Mr O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is strict and authoritarian, quick to lose his temper but then struggles to reconcile the love of his sons, ultimately believing the world is exploitative and corrupt. We learn about the characters from their decisions in these choices. All of
The Tree of Life (2011) is occupied with themes of dualism: the idea that experiences are either material or mental. Interestingly, Christianity features heavily and this can be linked to the concept of people being both body and soul. The combination of abstract visual imagery and music explains the emotions and events as coherently as the dialogue; although this can be subjective and individual to each person watching the film. The symbolism represented to me the creation and destruction of life, as well as the unspeakable bonds between parents, children and siblings. Likewise, feelings of the continuation of an unworldly consciousness even when we are not present in the flesh and an ultimate force gravitating and controlling the cycle of life and death were created. The long wide beaches with the sun setting in a horizon far away struck a resemblance to purgatory, a long path with no concept of time with the unconscious knowledge that you must travel towards the horizon.Personally, I do not believe this film is concerned with facts and events. More interestingly, it focuses on perspectives and how we view the world. It is certainly subjective, and as Mr O’Brien explains, this means it “comes from your own mind, and can’t be proven by other people.” And that is the beauty of this film. If you like analysing and philosophising, this certainly is the film for you. Despite polarized reviews at the time of its release, the film has since been declared a masterpiece.
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The tree of life (2011)
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