Volcanoes erupt and waters surge while the female narrator whispers “We cry to you. My soul. My son. Hear us.” This type of scene makes up half of the newest highly anticipated directorial outing from Terrence Malick. This is the half that contains the birth of the universe sequence (yes, dinosaurs) and some of the most gorgeous cinematography you’ll ever see. Amorphous flocks of birds slowly soar like a lava lamp through the sky; seemingly extraterrestrial landscapes form from a worldwide primordial ooze. The other half of the film stars Sean Penn as a frustrated corporate-type who desperately reaches into his hazy past in search of closure to an issue that is clear to neither the character nor the viewer. The flashback sequences to his youth feature Brad Pitt as a Brahms-loving, hard-nosed father who teeters on the edge of abuse. “Father, you always wrestle inside me. Always you will.” Shame, joy, fear, the entire emotional spectrum is represented in a series of fragmented memories that unfold in the unorganized manner of memory. These scenes have an intentional dreamlike quality as Malick successfully creates concrete visuals that capture the mind’s eye’s interpretation of the past (not an easy task). The film climaxes in a mindscape that features a literal door to the past, but by that point any shortcomings are easily forgiven.
With room for interpretation as vast as its scope, The Tree of Life is highly recommended for discerning viewers; frustration awaits the rest of you, but don’t worry, Super 8 comes out today too.
The Tree of Life opens today at the Ritz East.