Tree of life

After months of wait, I finally got to see Terrence Mallick’s new masterpiece – Tree of Life. It is never good to see a movie with too much expectation, and I had carefully avoided reading much about this work. So, when the movie unfolded into an orchestra of Universal creation, I was astounded. I was not expecting an hour of a musical journey taking me through the creation of life. That anyone could attempt such a feat in a movie was impressive.
Tree of Life brought together the dichotomy of a vast cosmos versus individual life. Many times, a cosmic order is used as a salve for personal tragedies. God has a much larger scheme, the Universe has a much larger scheme, your personal sorrows are small. But is it comforting to know that you are nothing in that much larger scheme, that you could suffer personal losses and the Universe will just move on? Would it not be more satisfactory if you were the center of the Universe and the world would come to a halt if there was a hitch in your journey? It is possible that much of human angst is caused by the knowledge of being miniscule. Perhaps this is what causes Jack O’brien’s (Sean Penn) angst and restless wanderings.

This film is a journey – into the memories of childhood, into the realm of Universal knowledge, and finally into the beyond. As a middle aged man, Jack O’brien remembers growing up in a small Texan town with two brothers. They have an idyllic childhood, spent in blissful afternoon excursions, looked upon by an angelic mother and a doting, though disciplinarian father. The brothers are happy in each others’ company. There is just one scene in which sibling rivalry is mildly indicated: a toddler Jack looks upon his baby brother with curiosity, expecting him to play with him and then goes to throw tantrums when he finds no response. Mallick has captured a whole range of emotions in such subtle, ethereal scenes. There is very little dialogue in the entire movie. People whisper to themselves, or sometimes it appears that only bits of conversations are overheard by the camera/viewer – none of the words are spoken for the benefit of the viewer. In the movie are the rebelliousness of growing up, an exploration of personal failure and how it changes a person as a father, and more overpowering – a deep sense of loss. When Jack’s younger brother dies at the age of 19, the whole family is thrown off, especially the mother, who wanders restlessly in the woods, seeking an answer from God. She asks: ‘They say he has gone to God, but was he not with God all the time?’ Her confusion, and sense of being wronged is deeply touching. Jack’s misery is more lasting, as he tries relentlessly to keep the memory of his brother alive. His mind continues to wander, until one day, in the afterlife, he meets his family again and smiles in the togetherness.
It is hard to know whether Mallick is pitching a war between personal losses and the vastness of continuous life, or if he is trying to find comfort in the continuity of life. It seems like he is still wondering, as am I. But I am sure I will look forward to the blu ray release in October – so that I can enjoy the magnificent scenes on my personal screen.

2 thoughts on “Tree of life

  1. Your review has come out of a felt experience. You have lived the movie it seems. I saw it at Oberoi PVR and there were only 20 or so people in the theater. Not many applauded in the end. Some left early, and overall everyone felt bored. Even I found that the structure of the film required a little getting used to. And I considered it my own fault.

    My favorite scenes were the growing years of O'Brien kids, esp their lazy afternoon games with their mother. The scenes had the kind of subtle universality that made me think instantly that the kids will grow up someday and the mother will be left alone. I could have wept silently watching the mother wandering in the woods, had the bored woman sitting next to me not saved me by constantly swearing and regretting her decision to watch this mess of a film without “head or tail” πŸ™‚

    I really loved the idea of contrasting the macro with micro, and like you, even I wasn't sure of Mallick's true belief: does he find comfort knowing that he is a small dot on an infinite place? I think the end was overtly Christian, when John gets to meet his parents at the end of time. From Hindu perspective, keeping the circular notion of time in mind (cycles of reincarnation), that scene may never occur. And it could only multiply John's misery! That's beyond the point, I guess. But he has made the kind of film that can be truly called universal. It crosses all language barriers and can be seen by anyone wishing to submit to its glorious images. I am also waiting for the Bluray release, so that I can download it's rip πŸ™‚


  2. My experience was not much different than yours – I watched it in a small audi, with a small crowd, and the screen was not good. A few people walked out in between, but gratefully people were quiet. It was a very different structure, and people do not go to movies expecting a poetic creativity. There was even a theater which had put up a sign warning people that it was a different style of movie making, and if people did not enjoy it, the theater will not return their money πŸ™‚
    I loved the growing up scenes too – they were ethereal and thus Mallick always drilled down the transience.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s