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The Tree of Life reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a confusing and, for most viewers, either a disappointing or exhilirating picture. Alternating between a prosaic story of one Texas family growing up in the 1950’s and an image-dominated history of the planet and its life,  and flashbacks and dream sequences from one character’s present, the movie alternates between a compelling story and seemingly endless, although beautiful imagery, which continues relentlessly for minutes on end. Brad Pitt gives a strong performance as the paradigmatic American father, determined to get ahead on his own will power, intelligence and industry and equally determined to instill the same ethic in his three sons. To his sons, Pitt is an unpredictable tyrant, often demanding, while occasionally, if remotely, affectionate. Of the two oldest sons, one is pliant but weak while the other, Jack, is stronger, but angry and rebellious. In the midst of this family is the soft mother, whom the strong child experiences as seductive yet too weak to stand up to her husband.  

Between episodes of the family’s history we experience the birth of the earth and the evolution of life as told in music and images, which are striking, often poetic and always breathtaking, but ultimately distracting and, because of the time they occupy on the screen, boring. Several of the audience left during these scenes. We also are presented with the strong child grown up, played by Sean Penn, remembering all of the family scenes as he ponders the meaning of the death of his younger brother and questions God. In the end, Jack and his family, including the dead brother, are reunited in his memory on a beach.  

Tree of Life will receive a mixed reaction from the audience as well as reviewers. This reviewer had a mixed reaction within himself. The story was prototypical enough to dredge up similar memories from someone like me, who grew up around the same time as that portrayed in the movie. The emotions experienced by the characters in the story seemed real and I would guess that most viewers experienced an aching wish that both father and sons could break out of their stoicism and anger to reach out to each other more often. The history-of-the-world images were beautiful enough to be engaging, even if they went on too long. But in my mind, they interfered with the story. The focus on the son, Jack as an adult, enduring dream-like sequences as he mused about the meaning of his life, his history, and God’s purpose, was confusing (what Jack was feeling seemed obscure to me.)

Perhaps each reader should see the movie and judge for him or her self.

Casey Dorman

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