Tree of Life (2011) – directed by Terrence Malick

I saw this film a while back and did not get the chance to get pen to paper while it was still fresh in my mind. That said, this is a film that has stuck with me. So lucid is its authorship that I can still recall much of the film.

Terrence Malick is a unique director and The Tree of Life goes some way to exploring his life and mind. It is not a film driven by narrative but rather a post modern experiential piece of cinematic art. What plot there is centers around the experience of Jack growing up in the 1950s with his two younger siblings. As he grows up his loss of innocence parallels his loss of tactile self. Beautifully shot, the film captures the sensory overload that the young and innocent experience only too vividly. Such simple experiences as riding a bike into a field of long grass, casting it on its side with child like abandonment, and running through the field to the stream beyond is captured in all its simplicity and awe inspiring reveal of past memories, that it had reliving my tactile younger years. Fast forward to an adult Jack (played by Sean Penn) firmly ensconced in his concrete jungle, but thinking through his youth and the tragic loss of his brother. Malick posits the futility of man made creations, brought about with our adult lives, and suggest that true meaning comes through a return to nature (which would account for Malick’s study of Heidegger in his earlier years).

Jacks younger brother, we learn at the beginning of the film, dies at an early age of adulthood. However, it is curious that Jack’s recollection has himself mourning the loss as an adolescent instead of the actual age of death. This perhaps accounts for a time when the simplicity and innocence of his youth made the love for his brother all the more pure and uncomplicated. We are not privy to the circumstances of his brother’s death, and it would appear that this is not important, although it is interesting to note that Malick’s own brother died at a similar age. Malick’s exploration of love is summed up through Jack’s relationship with his brother. Jack learns what love means and is summed up succinctly through his mother’s words “the only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

Malick, whose films are so few and far between, has created nothing short of a masterpiece. Rarely do I see a film that triggers my senses so vividly. The Tree of Life transported me back to my youth so successfully, and it reminds us that we must stop, smell the roses, and above all … love.

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