Terrence Malick’s visionary masterpiece is a magnificent, toweringly ambitious and deeply serious address about the inner crisis of a tormented man in his middle years and the terrible unchangeability of the past.
A middle-aged executive (Sean Penn) in the throes of a midlife breakdown, is mentally carried back to his boyhood in 1950s Texas, where he and his brothers were dominated by an overbearing father (Brad Pitt) – a ferocious disciplinarian. Their mother (Jessica Chastain) is a gentle, religious soul who asks her sons to follow the way of divine grace, rather than be content to thrive as natural beings. But when one of the brothers dies at the age of 19, it creates a wound that promises never to heal. And as the man forces himself to consider his own negligible place in the universe, the film gestures at the unimaginable reaches of geological and stellar time, depicting nothing less than the origins of the cosmos and man himself in a colossal symphony of images.
Tree of Life is the kind of work that makes other films and other filmmakers look timid and feeble. A glorious ode to the improbability of existence, like a rare celestial comet Malick’s cinematic wonder feels like the kind of cosmic spectacle that most people get to look at just once in their lifetime. Don’t miss it.