Published on July 26th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie0
Tree Of Life Film Review: Easier To Destroy Than Create
Director: Terrence Mallick.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain.
Tree Of Life is an engrossing film, with a good story at its heart, but is pockmarked by being bookended by pretentious self-indulgence on the director’s behalf.
Wherever there is life there is also death. We may relegate thoughts of death to the back of consciousness but its presence is always there. The narration of Tree of Life claims that people do not think about death but try their best to ignore it. This is unlikely, because from a very young age people come into contact with death, we see it on TV, in books and our relatives die. This familiarity with death and the dying process serves us well throughout our lives.
Keeping knowledge of mortality in the background serves two functions. It prevents us from becoming nihilistic and it allows us to progress our lives knowing that we only have a short amount of time on Earth.
‘He causes chaos as he tries his best to destroy those that care about him.’
The Tree Of Life is a highly unusual film that is punctuated by staccato and interruptions. It follows the story of the O’Brien family from two points of view, those of the family growing up and one tormented adult member, Jack who is haunted by the random nature of life and why his brother died young.
When the extraneous packaging is removed from Tree Of Life, a well-told, highly engrossing film emerges. At its centre lies a dysfunctional familial unit spearheaded by a dangerous patriarch, Mr. O’Brien, a bullying manipulative individual whose insecurities are vehemently released on members of his family. He causes chaos as he tries his best to destroy those that care about him.
‘O’Brien is a defective,controlling father who takes out his frustration with life on those around him.’
Tree of Life is almost a study in how people’s personalities are destroyed by manipulative antisocial narcissists and how the damage inflicted reverberates from one generation to the next as it infects. O’Brien is a defective,controlling father who takes out his frustration with life on those around him. His servile, co-dependant wife, and his young children are forced to deal with his loathsome character.
His passive wife, little more than a doormat, is completely unable to protect her children from her devious husband and retreats to a world of fantasy in which she constantly tries to wash herself from the foul odour afflicting her sons. Two of Mr. O’Brien’s sons bare the brunt of his abuse, young Jack and R.L. His unpredictable and inconsistent ‘rules’ have a serious effect on the two boys in different ways.
Whereas, R.L. becomes withdrawn and non-talkative, Jack starts to become more and more like his father. Inflicting cruelty to animals and to his brother, it becomes very clear to the audience just how bad the damage abusive parenting can cause to individuals and society in general.
The film, at two hours and 20 minutes, is roughly 40 minutes too long. This could have been easily corrected with better editing and large needless long sections showing nebulae and galaxies removed. It is questionable if we really need to be shown that the Earth will eventually be swallowed up by the Sun, or that galaxies are born or die.
‘some of the images of Outer Space are intensely beautiful and moving’
One other strange scene consists of one raptor-like dinosaur letting its prey go for some unknowable reason, perhaps some illustration of the random nature of life. Its inclusion, like the Space scenes jars with the main story. Although it most be said that while some of the images of Outer Space are intensely beautiful and moving, their duration are just far too long.
Brad Pitt is excellent in his portrayal of the tyrannical, Mr. O’Brien. Switching malevolently between praising his sons and fiercely rebuking them for imagined wrongs, Pitt infuses O’Brien with a magnetic presence and hints at a lost humanity beneath the furious exterior.
‘One moment Jack is emitting love and empathy, the next his sadistic personality is inflicting the utmost cruelty to his brother’
The star of the show is undoubtedly, young Jack, brilliantly played by Hunter McCracken. It is a very tall order to hang the success of a film on the shoulders of someone so young. But McCracken succeeds, not only does he deliver deep pathos to the role as he morphs into another version of his father, he strides successfully between all the demanding moods of a deeply troubled character. One moment Jack is emitting love and empathy, the next his sadistic personality is inflicting the utmost cruelty to his brother, someone he cares deeply about.
Jessica Chastain is quite good in the role of Mrs. O’Brien, a woman who struggles with her abusive husband. Laramie Eppler also delivers a noteworthy performance as R.L., the young boy who is tortured and betrayed by both his father and his brother. However, the oddest inclusion is Sean Penn as the older Jack. Penn’s performance is unquestionably good but it is a rather strange role to accept and his character is in the periphery.
Tree Of Life is thought-provoking film that will both disturb and enlighten that is worth seeing. Forty minutes less and we would have a much better production.