By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
REVIEW (GRADE: B)
Beautifully-shot and impeccably acted, Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is as spiritually and artistically satisfying as it is excessively ponderous and slowly-paced, sometimes to the point of irritating monotony. The film, ostensibly, follows the reflections of a man (Sean Penn) on his childhood in 1960's America; however, it also takes the perspective of his mother and father, examining their thoughts, hopes, and fears. The movie is anchored by a terrific performance from Brad Pitt, who marvelously portrays a genuinely loving father whose pride and alpha-male socialization have left him without the tools to give his children the affection and acceptance they need. Also stellar is Jessica Chastain (The Help) as the mother whose faith and optimism are tested to the utmost. The young actors who play the children always seem organic and real, never like they are acting.
With a sometimes incongruous mixture of realism and metaphoric fantasy, Tree of Life examines the big questions of creation, life's purpose, family relations, and salvation. The film is spiritual, philosophical, and even Christian in its ideas and symbolism, though never preachy. It is thought-provoking and exemplary in its use of music, editing, and cinematography; indeed, there's been no better-looking film this year. Unfortunately, though Tree of Life‘s slow pacing has moments when it works (the awe-inspiring 19 minute Creation scene comes to mind) but too often it brings the narrative to a halt, urging me to wish the film would simply “get on with it.” This is the film's chief flaw: it's nearly two and a half hours long, but it feels like it's three. However, for those with patience, an appreciation of true artistry, and a mind ready to ponder and reflect, Tree of Life is more than worth a look.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Tree of Life is rated PG-13. It contains intense emotional scenes of grieving, neglect, emotional abuse, and attempted physical abuse. There is a depiction of a child drowning (we witness the aftermath, not the actual drowning).
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Fathers should influence their families with kindness, love, gentleness, and pure knowledge, not coercion, control, or dominion. Good people are not exempt from trials.
Tree of Life has a marvelous sequence illustrating how the world came to be. So does The Bible! Check out some of my favorite biblical flicks.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.