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Film

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life roots itself in grief and touches the stars

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) in a rare moment of tenderness in The Tree of Life.


In a movie as knowingly expressionistic as The Tree of Life — a film that recalls Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood as well as David Lynch’s most vulnerable moments — it is perhaps unfair to rely upon the details of plot. Nevertheless, those details are compelling enough: A scarred family must go on despite the unthinking cruelty of fate and the fact that everyone is to blame. But how far can you take this blame? To the inception of the cosmos?

Between the poles of domestic entropy, with its moments of stolen lingerie, church-pew skipping, and firecracker-riding frogs, Malick orchestrates a panorama of utter despair and total affirmation.

This epic observance of Old Testament pangs and New Age panacea, shared by recovering addicts of all kinds, to literally “Let go and let God,” has been compared to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; the superficial similarities might be that both pictures are long, used the services of chief special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (who hadn’t worked in three decades), have a score that invites similarities to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and have the audacity to point to where its protagonists are going and where they have been.

But if there is a starchild in The Tree of Life, he is not in some evolved last stage of pure thought, but in the very human child you can hold and touch right now. •

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