By Gary Murray


Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain


Written and directed by Terrence Malick


MPAA Rating PG 13


Running time 138 min


Selig Film Rating: Get Out the Torches!


Walking out of Tree of Life, my reactions were “Huh?”, “What?” and “Really?”   This is one of the most confusing flicks of the year.  It is not the Brad Pitt/Sean Penn man vs. man battle royal but a navel gazing introspective drama. 


The film starts In Medius Rea.  It opens in Waco in the 1950s with Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) getting news about a death.  Then we go back to the beginning, way back to the beginning—of time.  There is the Big Bang and the formation of the planet.  We get the Primordial Ooze and the one-celled organisms evolving into more complex creatures.  There are dinosaurs destroying one another before we get back to the main story of the O’Brien clan and their three boys.  The kids play in the DDT spray and do all the things that kid’s do, from breaking windows to fighting. 


At the same time, we are in modern Dallas where Jack (Sean Penn) who works in a downtown skyscraper.  He is a confused man trying to make sense of his life.  The film bounces between the two worlds showing how growing up affects the man.   


The film is just beautiful to watch.  The images of creation are just a wonder to behold.  Terrence Malick has captured every stunning image has those arty angles craved by the art house elite.  He just needed a story to hang this on.


Sean Penn seems to be in this film for no particular reason.  He is the son but his scant scenes have no dramatic context.  His acting comes across more as a man irritated by the day than a man contemplating his existence. 


The most important aspect of Tree of Life is Jessica Chastain as the long suffering mom.  She brings an honesty the performance, a woman who knows her place is in the home but strives to make everything work in her little world.  She is the biggest breath of sunshine in this dire little flick.


Brad Pitt comes across very harsh and very wrong in Tree of Life.  There is not one ounce of charm in his reading of Mr. O’Brien.  He is a brilliant man who is trapped by circumstance, an artist caught in a mechanical world.  When his rage finally hits, it is overdue and a bit anticlimactic.


This is not a Brad Pitt and Sean Penn turbo acting blockbuster.  As a matter of fact, the two are never on the screen at the same time. If I had to compare this film to anything, it would be the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey and not in a good way.  Like the confusing muddled mess that is the birth of the star child, Tree of Life is very impressionistic and not easily explained.    


The film is about life and death and the connection between all live has with the planet.  This is a work for art snobs, those who treasure image over plot; surreal images over a driving narrative.  Some may like this kind of flick; I just find it a bunch of drivel.    



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