Dir. Terrence Malick. U.S.A. 2011.

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After a six-year long gestation, iconoclastic but reclusive director Terrence( Thin Red line, The New World, Days of Heaven) Malick’s meaningful adventure about the true meaning of life routed through it’s very origins- a philosophical exploration that is mystical and poetic, ‘The Tree of Life,’ finally finds a visual voice. And this is by far Malick’s most enchanting, spell binding and realised creation.
The film, a post war coming of age story told using cosmology, micro-biology and spiritual allegory, is a slow burner which generates heat as it goes along it’s elliptical orbit, reaching an impressionistic crescendo in it’s final stages. The story revolves around a Midwestern family in the 1950’s-is about the upbringing of a young boy Jack O Brien(Hunter McCracken), the eldest of three sons in a mid century Texas small town and is melded with some uncannily utopian visuals of the earth’s origin. What is the connection you may well ask? It’s a cosmically indented spiritual and philosophical take that expresses Malick’s own concerns regarding the earth and her caretakers. The contrast is between the way of nature and the way of nurture represented by the boys’ parents- Mr O’Brien(Brad Pitt) a proponent of tough love- a disciplinarian, hard taskmaster , a control freak while Mrs O’Brien(Jessica Chastian) represents the graceful, tender and ever loving caregiver who nullifies her husband’s blunt obdurateness. The film accepts the presence of God and attempts to make the audience understand the powerful influence that both nature and nurturing have on young souls emerging from the elements that created it.

Malick’s narrative opens with a quotation from the Btble, Book of Job- “ Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?” and moves on to showcase Jack’s life as a preadolescent, through brief illuminating impressions and then ending that pattern when Mr and Mrs O’Brien receive word of Jack’s younger brother’s death at the age of 19. The narrative then jumps straight to a much older Jack(Sean Penn) a middle-aged architect who lives amidst gleaming ultra modern skyscrapers while still haunted by the death of his younger brother- he is shown having a telephonic conversation with his father who appears to be holding fast to his controlling tendencies. At that point in the film a gigantic shift occurs and we see absolutely awe-inspiring visuals depicting the dawn of time, the origin of the species and the development of man which eventually culminates in the end of time. It’s clearly the most defining moment in cinematic history- one that has never come before.

The film has it all in rightful measure. Tension, love, blinding insight, soul deep thought-provoking visuals, narrative depth, masterly editing, majestic camerawork, music that heightens the experience to the senses and above-all illuminating performances. The narrative is without doubt the most fascinating I have experienced in recent years- an evocative impact study of human action on creation. Malick’s narrative draws out the psychological dynamics of a nuclear family in the American South at the dawn of the space age with unerring effect. Doughlas Turnbull(of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) designed the superlative effects for this pic while Emmanuel Lubezki's constantly moving camera casts a hypnotic spell of invigorating majesty. Go for it , I say!

Rating: * * * *  

Johnson Thomas

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