- Best Motion Picture of the Year
- Best Achievement in Directing: Terrence Malick
- Best Achievement in Cinematography
In terms of plot, the Tree of Life is the story of a family coping with the loss of a young son. The film however is much more than a story or a plot, it is a film that plays with imagery, cuts, shots, time, flow and art. While I am certain the film will not appeal to everybody, which in my opinion means it won’t be a Best Picture winner, it employs such unique, artistic techniques that it certainly deserves the nomination for cinematography and directly.
Unlike anything I ever expected, the Tree of Life reminds me of the stream of consciousness novels I had to read in High School. I couldn’t help but think of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff (which is great because I actually enjoyed the novel) or A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (which sucks because I hate James Joyce). The film was not shot in real time; in fact it wasn’t even shot in chronological order. The film deals with the loss of a son but it begins with the family’s immediate reaction to the loss. The film then jumps forward to what I perceived to be present day when the family’s eldest son is grown up (played by Sean Penn). Already the imagery is strong, juxtaposing natural sights (like a swarm of birds) with the rigid streets and building mankind has created. Instead of going back in time to let us get to know the brother, RL, before his passing, the story decides to take a break. For about twenty minutes viewers are shown a montage of scenes from nature. Universes, galaxies, plants and animals all cross the screen in a twisted pattern that I took to be the story (or tree) of life. The most amazing aspect of the montage was the emotions Malick managed to create. Using no dialogue, only nature and music, the audience is pulled through a roller coaster of emotions. Fear replaces a sense of calm in mere seconds and is followed quickly by supreme happiness. The emotions moved so quickly I often found myself confused as to how I was supposed to be feeling.
The montage was the best and worst part of the film. Throwing a twenty minutes long montage into the first 40 minutes of the film makes it very inaccessible to viewers. Many viewers have no interest in seeing films with such experimental techniques. Though the film ends up being very moving (when the characters are finally developed), many viewers gave up long before they found any character value. For this reason, I do not believe the film will win Best Picture. A Best Picture should be more accessible to a wider range of audience members which the Tree of Life, though beautiful, is not. The exact scene that I believe pushed the film out of the Best Picture running is the same scene that demands its consideration in the Best Director and Cinematography categories. The film is beautifully put together. Plot, imagery, storyline, shots, voiceover, dialogue, sound, shot composition, cuts and more all weave together to cultivate a myriad of emotions that, as a viewer, are near overwhelming. The film uses both traditional and experimental techniques to creature some truly amazing scenes. Both Terrence Malick (director) and Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematographer) not only deserve the nominations, they deserve to be seriously considered for their respective awards.
After the first, epic montage, the film continues to utilize odd montages and experimental techniques but also begins to develop a story. At its core, the plot looks at Sean Penn’s character, Jack, as a child. Played by Hunter McCracken, Jack attempts to hold onto his childhood while living under the rule of an oppressive, strict father played by Brad Pitt. The film jumps back and forth between Pitt’s rigid control of the house to Jack and his two brothers finding time to act like kids. The boys’ mother, played by Jessica Chastain, is very affectionate towards her boys but takes a back seat in their discipline. It is clear that she dislikes how strict her husband is with their kids but only speaks up on one occasion. As the film continues the characters and their relationships drift. Jack drifts further and further away from his father, as does his mother. Jack’s relationship with his brother grows though I can’t decide if he drifted closer or further from the soon to pass R.L.
This film is as interesting as it is bizarre. Though I don’t believe it to be Best Picture worthy, I believe that Malick and Lubezki are strong contenders in the race for their Oscars. In the end, I predict the film will go home empty handed. There are too many giants for it to overcome. I give the film a 7 out of 19. If you’re thinking about seeing it, be ready for something very different from what you’ve seen before.