Terrence Malick is no stranger to exploring existential landscapes that offer us time to reflect. This is my second viewing of The Tree of Life, which has been restored by The Criterion Collection in digital 4k. The feature has an extra 50 minutes and a grandeur amount of mini-documentaries to get excited about.
However, you choose to experience The Tree of Life, Malick, has not intended for this extended edition to be ‘better’ but another version.
The Tree of Life is quite a complex film to really pinpoint, but nonetheless explores a family growing up in Texas during the 1950s. And we learn that a loss of a family member will take place.
Opening with a breathy Mrs O’ Brien (Jessica Chastain) echoing what has been taught to her – people must choose to follow either the path of grace or the path of nature, there is a divine and sombre mood that plays over The Tree of Life. But these ideals stain and divide the household. Mr O’ Brien (Brad Pitt) is evident as a force of nature. He prepares the children to be men and to conceal any emotions. Mrs O’ Brien, on the other hand, is the ethereal, lovingly character who teaches the children to be in awe and wonder of the world. Rarely does Mrs O’Brien stand up for herself and when she does her ideals are repressed or punished by Mr O’ Brien.
You could say The Tree of Life is a sad depiction of domestic abuse and toxic masculinity portrayed through the father and how he has damaged their eldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken– all the children from the film were actually non-professional actors). Jack is split between accepting his Mother or Father and subconsciously repeating the same actions of the father who he despises. *Note in the extra footage, you get more of the tensions building through the Mother and Father.
And then there’s the other side to The Tree of Life, which colourises and adds additional layers to the storyline through inspiring imagery and sound. Orchestrated with depictions into the history of the world, shots of the unexplained forces brimming in their most natural state or, into the future when the film contrasts itself into a modern setting and brings a much older Jack (played by Sean Penn) into context.
Equally as extraordinary are the special features that come with The Criterion Collection presentation. This is foremost in a 30-minute documentary called, Exploring The Tree of Life. Which is a multifaceted doco that you can easily be quite well versed from? Then there are the sub-documentaries that follow straight after relating to the cinematography, a video essay, acoustics and a bit more about Malick.
Depending on interest, I found the documentary involving an in-depth interview with Jessica Chastain the most engaging and inspiring. Not only did Chastain come across as natural and honest as her character but also it gives you all the insights into the improvisations and discoveries Malick and the crew shared. It is through these humble moments that really accentuate the wonder and awe to this piece of art and keeps me thinking about just how great this is.
Drama, Fantasy | USA, 2011 | 12 | 19th November 2018 (UK) | Blu-Ray | The Criterion Collection | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir. Terrence Malick | Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION: