The Tree of Life (Blu-ray)


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Rating: PG-13

Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien
Sean Penn as Jack
Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O’Brien
Hunter McCracken as Young Jack
Laramie Eppler as R.L.
Tye Sheridan as Steve
Fiona Shaw as Grandmother
Joanna Going as Jack’s Wife

Directed by Terrence Malick

Special Features:
Exploring The Tree Of Life
Digital Copy Of Feature Film

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
DTS-HD MA 7.1 Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 139 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“This stunningly original triumph from visionary director Terrence Malick stars Academy Award Nominee Brad Pitt and Academy Award Winner Sean Penn. The epic, yet intimate, story follows the life journey of Jack O’Brien (played as an adult by Penn), the eldest son of a fractured Midwestern family. Pitt delivers a powerful performance as the cataclysmic force of nature in Jack’s world, his complex and rigidly authoritarian father. Hailed as a visually breathtaking masterpiece by critics and audiences alike, ‘The Tree of Life’ won the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor, becoming one of the year’s most talked about films.”

“The Tree of Life” is rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

I missed “The Tree of Life” when it hit theaters, but I wanted to check it out on Blu-ray. A lot of my fellow critics here in Houston raved about it and that got my interest up. Plus it was made by fellow Texan Terrence Malick and filmed a short drive up the road from me in Smithville, TX. I like supporting Texan films so I was eager to see what it was all about. However, I knew it was made for the art house and indie crowd and that’s not me. So I did my best to go into this film with an open mind and give it a fair shot.

I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t care for “The Tree of Life.” It simply didn’t engage me. I am fully aware of what Malick was trying to do with the movie. He was making an analogy between nature and the O’Brien family. Brad Pitt’s character represents the dark side of nature where survival is taught through trials, stress, and conflict. Jessica Chastain represents nurturing, love, and compassion. The two exert their influence over their son to turn him into the man that he becomes. So I got that. My problem is with how he tried to tell the story.

The first 40 minutes play out like a nature documentary. We see the Earth forming in a spectacular display of special effects. Once the world is formed, we see single celled organisms form and eventually dinosaurs. This is all interesting but the images are quite random and it’s hard to connect them to the core plot. I think I would have rather have seen a nature documentary than watch the beautiful but sleepy imagery here.

The rest of the movie shows Jack O’Brien growing up. We see him as a baby, going through sibling rivalry, and generally having a happy childhood. We then see him get into conflict with his authoritarian father, become a rebellious teenager, and eventually dealing with the death of his younger brother as an adult. The scenes are all very personal and seem like the director recreating his childhood memories. In fact, all of these parts of the film seem like Malick trying to come to terms with his own issues with his father. It’s all very melancholy and a bit depressing. And it’s all done at such a sleepy, leisurely pace that I have to admit that I got bored with it all quite quickly. Matters aren’t helped by the over 2 hour running time.

All that being said, “The Tree of Life” did have some high points that I appreciated. I liked the effects of the creation sequences. And any movie that features dinosaurs wins points in my book. The performances are pretty good, too. Brad Pitt embodies the frustrated and authoritarian father as Mr. O’Brien. Anybody that has grown up in Texas probably knows more than one guy like this. The young actor Hunter McCracken is also good as Young Jack. His experiences as a young kid will bring a sense of childhood nostalgia to any male American viewer. But most notable is Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O’Brien. She reminds me a lot of Bryce Dallas Howard in her looks and performance in this maternal role. But despite the strong cinematic visuals and the strong performances, I still got bored by “The Tree of Life” pretty quickly.

Unless you’re ready for an arty, indie, existential catharsis by an eccentric director, then I suggest you pass on “The Tree of Life.” But if that sounds like it’s up your alley, then go for it.

There’s only one bonus feature on this Blu-ray. It’s an in-depth ‘making of’ featurette. You see how they did the creation effects, how they took over the town of Smithville, and how they seemed to be making up scenes on the fly. I actually found this featurette more interesting than the movie itself. But one big thing is missing from this featurette – Terrence Malick. He continues to foster his eccentric reputation by not appearing at all in this ‘making of’ featurette. While that may just be who he is, it comes across as pretentious and rude. If the rest of the cast and crew can be filmed talking about the movie, there’s no legitimate reason he shouldn’t support the film, too. If you choose the profession of writer and director, a big job requirement is to actually be in the spotlight. To then flee from that spotlight seems like a weak attempt to create mystery or a genuine psychological disorder. Neither is a great thing.