May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 30 June 2011 11:06
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film from director Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life.To experience Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life, is to engage in an artist’s journey of self-exploration. Never a predictable moviemaker, Malick fully embraces the visual potential of film to create atmosphere and convey mood as much as to advance story or develop character. He carefully selects his subject matter and clearly takes pains with every detail. This methodic approach makes Malick a movie mystery man as well as a most acclaimed director. But it doesn’t yield a lot of product; The Tree of Life is only his fifth film since his feature debut with Badlands in 1973.
While Malick may not be the most prolific of directors, he may be the most unique creator working today. He never hesitates to film the impossible — such as his under-appreciated story of early America, The New World, in 2005 — or avoids pursuing his own vision of a well-worn genre — such as his acclaimed World War II drama, The Thin Red Line, in 1998. The Tree of Life offers Malick at his best: thoughtful, inspiring, controversial and ultimately emotional as he examines the hidden issues that carry from fathers to sons.
Asking fundamental questions of life and death, right and wrong, and love and fate, The Tree of Life introduces us to what should be a traditional middle-class family of the 1950s in Southern Texas. Brad Pitt, in a strong performance, portrays a father who brings the best of intentions to his obligations as father without consistently demonstrating the most loving behavior or the best judgment. As his three children experience the joys of growing up in a small town, Pitt’s proud papa is relentless in his discipline, forceful in his guidance and inconsistent in his affection. He confuses his children by proclaiming his belief in them yet finding every opportunity to undermine their self-confidence at every opportunity. And, sadly, he lets his own doubts, regrets and fears color the values he leaves with his boys. Ultimately, this selfish man reveals that the only life he truly cares to nurture is his own.
A less creative film director may have told this story in a series of predictable scenes featuring an abundance of dialogue to reveal the emotions behind the actions. But Malick’s trust in the intelligence of his audience leads him down a different path. The Tree of Life is told with minimal dialogue, disjointed sequences, an unclear timeline and a disconnected narrative. The only device that binds the film together is a visual framework that parallels the creation of the world, and life, with the development of children. As ambiguous as this may sound, it plays beautifully on screen. Malick creates seamless visual transitions that bring all his loose ends together. The result is a thrilling cinema experience that should be remembered as one of the year’s best.
In a film industry that, week after week, releases one predictable film after another, that an offering as unique as The Tree of Life could even get made is something of a miracle. But Terrence Malick always beats the odds. And, this time, he leaves us with lasting memories that may cause us to recall some pivotal moments from our own childhoods.
The Tree of Life
* Content: High. The story and the characters are as current as any family today even though the film is set in the 1950s.
* Entertainment: Medium. While the film is not necessarily easy to absorb, Malick’s unique approach is excellent entertainment.
* Message: High. Any parent will easily relate to the portrayal of young children trying to understand what motivates a parent to act as he does.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce older children to such issues is meaningful.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the challenges any parent can face when trying to juggle personal priorities with family obligations.
(The Tree of Life is rated PG-13 for some thematic material. The film runs 139 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets
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