The Tree of Life perfects Terrence Malick’s intuitive approach to cinema he has developed over the past for decades through other movies like Days of Thunder, Badlands, The New World and The Thin Red Line.
He finally stopped trying to pretend that his movies were anything other than his personal spiritual quest. Guadalcanal is not really what The Thin Red Line is all about and the New World is not about the English settling America. Those were just Malick’s excuses to mediate between the natural world being intruded by civilized man with his characters always ruminating on the rape of Eden with just a weighty voice-over.
The Tree of Life is just about a family with a domineering dad played by Brad Pitt, the forever patient mother played by Jessica Chastain and the three boys they raise in Waco, Texas. The majority is experienced through the oldest son Jack and his wide open eyes and casually is about the same age Malick would have been at the time.
Jack wades through the conflicts of life as a child and an adolescent in a script that is more primal than autobiographical. He does things he know are wrong as peer pressure consumes him and deflects rage at the lack of connection to his father he fears and loves in equal amounts.
Jack’s youth is given to us by Malick as a mess of feeling. The movie conveys the overwhelming and horrible immediacy of the emotions an adolescent endures. The cosmic imagery jumps feel right since they are only occasional because that is how a child’s id looks at the world – majestic and explosive and fully beyond comprehension.