The Tree of Life

 

The Tree of Life

Produced by Grant Hill

Director Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Edited by Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowtiz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber & Mark Yoshikawa

Original Music: Alexandre Desplat

Visual Effects Supervisor: Dan Glass

Costume Designer: Jacqueline West

Production Design: Jack Fisk

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick

2011

 

Cast:

Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien

Jessica Chastain as Mrs O’Brien

Hunter McCracken as Young Jack

Tye Sheridan as Steve

Laramie Eppler as R.L.

Sean Penn as Jack

 

Production Studio:

Theatrical: River Road Entertainment

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD50

Feature Size: ca. 43 GB

Bit Rate: High (30-35 Mbps)

Runtime: 139 minutes

Chapters: 25

Region: Free

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

(Optional) English SDH & Spanish

 

Extras:

• Exploring The Tree of Life (29:55 in HD)

• 'Theatrical Trailer (in HD)

• DVD + Digital copy disc

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD + DVD + DCD

Street Date: October 11, 2011



Critical Response:


New York Times: 100

At the beginning and the conclusion — alpha and omega — we gaze on a flickering flame that can only represent the creator. Not Mr. Malick (who prefers to remain unseen in public) but the elusive deity whose presence in the world is both the film’s overt subject and the source of its deepest, most anxious mysteries. With disarming sincerity and daunting formal sophistication “The Tree of Life” ponders some of the hardest and most persistent questions, the kind that leave adults speechless when children ask them. In this case a boy, in whispered voice-over, speaks directly to God, whose responses are characteristically oblique, conveyed by the rustling of wind in trees or the play of shadows on a bedroom wall. Where are you? the boy wants to know, and lurking within this question is another: What am I doing here? - A.O. Scott


     

 

Chicago Sun-Times: 100

Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other film I've seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and it lacked Malick's fierce evocation of human feeling. . . I don't know when a film has connected more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of "The Tree of Life" reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me. If I set out to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick's gift, it would look so much like this. His scenes portray a childhood in a town in the American midlands, where life flows in and out through open windows. There is a father who maintains discipline and a mother who exudes forgiveness, and long summer days of play and idleness and urgent unsaid questions about the meaning of things. - Roger Ebert


     

 

Los Angeles Times: 50

“The Tree of Life” introduces a character pondering the meaning of existence as he searches for the answers to the universe's most perplexing questions. Undeniably impressive, it's a film that will have viewers posing questions as well, just not the ones its director may have intended. . . For what Terrence Malick's complex, extraordinarily ambitious and years-in-the-making new feature unintentionally does is makes people ask what they want out of cinema. Are you looking for serious philosophizing, fluid filmmaking and stunning images? Or are satisfying drama and deep emotional connection what draws you in? Ideally you would have both, but that is not the case here.  . . Malick's intention is to use style and skill to imbue the ordinary with significance, to elevate this small-scale, single-family drama by interweaving it with cosmic preoccupations and the older Jack's soul-searching. While Malick's great ability holds us for a time, it is finally not enough to compensate for a lack of dramatic involvement — those eschatological quandaries tend to overwhelm the story.

"The Tree of Life," its enormous advantages notwithstanding, ends up a film that demands to be admired but cannot be easily embraced. - Kenneth Turan


     


Winner: Palme d’Or Cannes Film Festival 2011

Metacritic score: 85

Rotten Tomatoes: 84

RT Audience: 64

IMDB Users: 75

Amazon Users: 80


LensView

The Movie: 9.5

“What’s it all about, really?” asked several members of the exiting audience where I saw “The Tree of Life” a week after it opened in San Francisco.  These people might have sided with Mr. Turan, except that they paid for their time and trouble, and not the other way around.  The LA Times critic asks the right question, but I’m thinking he’s only asking it because he could not connect with Malick’s visionary narrative in any emotional way.  Or should I say: any reportable tangible way.  Perhaps not.  Many people find Malick just a bit too detached, analytical.

 

Perhaps, like the aforementioned San Francisco audience, Turan could find no analog in his personal experience to attach to Malick’s fluid meanderings.  A critic’s job, after all, is to report on “how” an aesthetic experience did or did not touch him or her, and then to find explanations for their reaction - or so I was taught from Alexander Sesonske.  Critics often finding themselves doing both at once.  Dangerous, but kind of inevitable.  I know I am guilty of it, which is one reason I need to see good films a second or third time before coming to terms with my own reaction.


     

 

Sesonske told his students not to get sidetracked by the artist’s intentions.  You can’t ever know them, he would say, and in any case the artist may not know them either. (Malick is unavailable for comment in the Bonus Features, so maybe he knows of what we speak here.)  For once you start talking about the creative process you are operating in a different realm of consciousness than that which created the art, or at least that which inspired it.  Filmmaking, unlike say the composition of music or painting or sculpting, is a cooperative enterprise which demands the technical aspects be understood by all those involved.  A writer/director can do only so much with a film as ambitious in scope and sophisticated in technique as The Tree of Life.  But I’m straying.  

 

The Tree of Life makes use of a very different cinematic language than most audiences have encountered.  The “words” are familiar, but the “syntax” is peculiar, and the “meaning” ambiguous.  This is the language of dreams - not to be confused with Kurosawa’s movie of the same name, a failed attempt  at similar ends by different means.  I think Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in Inception gives us a clue when he notes that we are not aware of how a dream begins, we are simply there, and then somewhere else.  We are traveler rather than guide.  We see ourselves in the dream, but can rarely influence our own actions.  We remember our feelings more than the events in it if for no other reason than the action is lined with symbols and metaphors that do not give up their meaning easily, if at all.


     

 

I see The Tree of Life as a series of dream fragments generated by the anniversary of the death of brother many years earlier.  Malick’s trademark narration asks questions about the meaning of a life, but the images do not answer the questions so much as respond to them in dreamlike remembrances, in fragments that jump from one moment in time to another, connected by feeling, impression, and by only the loosest dramatic associations. . . like a dream.

 

Consciousness, our species’ most unique gift, can become our most frustrating liability. In counterpoint to his stream of recollected images Malick intrudes upon his landscape with a series of his trademark voiceovers: sometimes Jack, the surviving brother; sometimes his father; at other times his mother.  They all ask much the same fundamental question, but from their various points of view: regret, confusion, a sense of betrayal.


     


Each person’s journey through the grief process is their own, despite “the five steps” and other universal appearing similarities. It is not surprising that the mother, who comes to the death of her son from the point of view of a devout Christian, returns to its teachings.  She sees how to live a life as she was taught by the nuns: as a choice between what they called “Grace” and “Nature.”  Since it is the mother’s voice that sets the stage for the ordeal to come, it is the voice we most want to take to heart, yet hers is, for me, the least personal, partly because she is so philosophical in a kind of talk about talk.  It remains a difficult business for me to enter wholly into another person’s belief structure  when I do not share them. . . for I do not see life in terms of a dichotomy between Grace and Nature as she describes them.


     

 

So here’s the thing: Despite the distance between myself and the mother in respect to our philosophies, Malick allows, invites, persuades me to follow her in a parallel language of imagery.  I am her ready companion as she wanders through her memories and her ideas about the meaning of life, even if I can’t bring myself to embrace her philosophical struggles.  Make no mistake: this is really hard to pull off.  I don’t much care what happens to Charles Foster Kane or George Amberson or Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly for all the clarity of narrative and technical support Orsen Welles and Rob Marshall bring to bear, or how much the behaviors of such characters affect those around them, even people we may come to like.  I am entertained, even mesmerized, but they do not persuade.


     

 

I am willing to give up a great deal on behalf of a heartfelt performance and an engaging script, which is why I can forgive Barbara Stanwyck a voice that rarely strays from its roots, while I cut Kathryn Hepburn little slack given her god-given gifts.  I am also willing and eager to embrace most of the films of William Wyler because he chooses stories that he feels he can bring to emotional life with the right cast.  I know I will be touched, and I’m rarely disappointed.

 

And for all their artifice, Hitchcock manages not only to engender suspense and mystery but hit the emotional nail on the head in films from The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent to Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious and Vertigo.  I have always felt that Hitchcock films are most often love stories masquerading as thrillers and it is this aspect of his films that sweeps us along and into their world again and again despite our knowing how it all comes out.


     

 

Terence Malick has been in rehearsal for The Tree of Life since Badlands.  Time after time he appears to be trying to rationalize his self-observing voiceovers with his imagery.  If there is a difficulty it is that his characters remain so detached.  After a while it doesn’t matter that much that character X or Y is detached, we sometimes fell the movie itself is just half-baked.  At the start of The Thin Red Line he comes close to what he finally realizes in Tree of Life, except that in the earlier film his very explicitness kind of undermines the obvious paradox between the natural world and the chaos and destruction brought about by war.  In Tree of Life, even though he invokes Life, Death, God, Nature, the Universe and 42, the imagery is so subtle, so elusive, often half-framed, yet immediately understood in metaphoric terms (or not, for some people.)  We appreciate we are in uncharted territory though there is something intimately familiar about it all.  The language of imagery and of narration work in parallel here, even if with different time signatures and keys.  They coincide only occasionally, but most of the time, they glide by one another as in love-making.


     

 

Image: 10/10

I had a special interest in this Blu-ray since the usually reputable Kabuki Theatre in San Francisco showed what I felt was a lackluster print for the film’s first run.  It was thin and seemed unnecessarily bright.  I am pleased to report that Fox’s Blu-ray looks better than what I saw in the theater.  (This is probably true more often than not on HD, it’s only that size can be very impressive and trump other considerations.)

 

Terrence Malick certainly challenges the medium in The Tree of LIfe in frame after frame.  Here he points the camera into the sun with only a few tree branches to diffuse its glare; there we look into a red and yellow seething volcano; elsewhere he imagines the beginning of the universe, the creation of our galaxy and the engulfment of one microorganism by another.  There is an abundance of superwide angle images that take in an equally wide dynamic range of light: interior shots that barely allow us to see detail outdoors; deserts, beaches, underwater shots, and some amazing close-ups of emotionally contained expression.  Through it all Fox never lets us down in this high bit rate Blu-ray.  It’s all there with nary a trace of transfer missteps.


     

 

Audio: 10/10

Fox introduces the movie with a curious travel advisory “For optimal sound reproduction the producers of this Blu-ray recommend that you play it Loud.”  For those that take the trouble to perform a proper THX surround sound calibration, it means that if you set your volume at zero dB or 100%, the full range of the audio mix will be revealed from the quietest rustle of wind or leaf to the most powerful rumbling without distortion, providing your playback system can handle it – which it won’t.  I say this as much as a dare as an invitation.  There is some pretty serious natural crashings in a few spots, the choir can be as delicate as a breeze or as mighty as the heavens, the voiceover so fulsome it will fill your lungs, hardly leaving room to process the visuals with what’s left of your brain power. Yet some of the dialogue is barely above a whisper.  For all its glory, most impressive about the mix is that it often contains simultaneous layers of hugely different amplitude, yet all readily perceived and followed without effort.


     

 

Extras: 4

The only thing that keeps this Bu-ray from an out-of-the-park home run, is its relative absence of bonus features, relying as it does on a single making-of featurette.  Happily, however, as Spencer Tracy said of Miss Kate, “Not much meat on her, but what’s there is cherce.”  Up to a point, however.  We hear from the film’s producers and stars, the production and costume designers, cinematographer and composer, but not, alas (as is his wont) Terrence Malick.  Such is life.

 

An advisory of my own, out of place here as anywhere else in this review, concerns Sean Penn’s name prominently placed above the title.  Be warned Mr Penn doesn’t get a great deal of screen time.  Something like 10-15 minutes maybe.  He doesn’t talk much either, leastways, not in his present time and space.  The movie belongs to Brad Pitt and newcomer Hunter McCracken, who play father and son - the latter: Sean Penn as a boy.  The mother is perfectly cast in the person of the angelic Jessica Chastain, rightly compared to Liv Ullmann.  She doesn’t say a great deal either, but neither does she need to.  Facial and postural expression says enough.


     

 

Recommendation: 10

If you simply want a demonstration high-definition video experience you will not find anything out there right now that will better confirm your wise choice to get into Blu-ray, and few if any titles more uplifting, more challenging, more visceral, more imaginative than The Tree of Life.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

October 13, 2011


More screenshots from The Tree of Life:


     

     

     

     

     

     

     



 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

October 8, 2011


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