The Tree of Life, 2011
Directed by Terrence Malik
Nominations Inlcude: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography
Yes, I've finally watched this movie. I find it a little ironic that the very first BP nominee to be released was this film, way back in May. And it was the very last nominee I needed to watch.
I had heard so many different things about this film. Going on the iTunes page for renting it, you either had people saying it was very boring, and wishing they could give it 0 stars, and those who loved it, and gave it 4 or 5 stars. I was under the impression that regular movie-goers didn't like it, and film buffs loved it. Therefore I wasn't too sure what to think. I knew there wasn't a whole lot of "plot" (I got this from the very vague synopsis I read on iTunes and IMDB), and from hearing about the long creation scenes, I figured I was settling in for a movie that was more art than story.
I'm glad I went in with the mindset I did, because had I been expecting plot, and character development, and dialogue, I'd be extremely disappointed. But even from the trailers that came out around this time last year, I didn't really expect an ordinary movie. And that's definitely not what this was.
This movie revolves around a young boy named Jack, and the idea of the way of nature and the way of grace. The way of nature, Mrs. O'Brien explains via voice-over in the beginning, is self-seeking and only willing to please itself, which is what society teaches us. But the way of grace, is the way of God, loving those around us, and looking to please others before pleasing yourself. While Jack starts off as an innocent child, we see him lose his innocence in a number of ways. Through seeing his friend drown at the local swimming pool, to dealing with his father, who reigns their family with an iron fist, and, fro Jack's view, doesn't seem to love his children. Jack is trying to choose between the ways of grace, and the ways of nature, his parents both embodying one (his mother, grace, his father, nature).
What I found interesting was there was very little dialogue in the film. A lot of it was whispered voice-overs, through montage scenes. We get some perspective from each character in the film, and learn what they are really thinking.
The film gets off to a little bit of a bumpy start, jumping back and forth between scenes, time periods, and character views. But the things that gets the ball really moving is the 25-minute creation sequence. We see everything from shots of the universe (dust clouds), to the collision of 2 planets creating Earth, molten Earth, cell formation and dinosaurs, all while hearing sparse whispered prayers from Mrs. O'Brien (Chastain). It isn't exactly clear why this is included, but reinforces the fact that we are but a very small speck in the span of space and time. We live a hundred years (if that), while the Universe has existed for thousands (or millions) of years, and will continue to exist long after we are gone. And how small and insignificant our lives are compared to the vastness of the Universe. Very impressionistic.
After this, we focus on the lives of the O'Briens'. We see the parents in love, the birth of their children, playing wit their children, teaching them lessons about their lives, and just their general lives, the insignificant things, like going to bed at night, or eating dinner, or playing ball on the street. Jack, the eldest son, is innocent of the evils of the world.
But as Jack is getting older, he starts realizing more and more things. He see's a friend drown at the local pool, and another friend has their house burn down, his friend suffering burns. He's learning that his parents are 2 very different people, his mother kind and loving, while his father is strong and ruling with an iron fist, and is starting to realize he's more like his father than his mother, which he isn't happy about. And he questions how he can get back what his brother's have. Their innocence.
This film was incredibly well acted, and I'm surprised it didn't get any nominations. Hunter McCracken, who played young Jack, was so magnificient in his debut film. He expressed everything with such ease, I felt like Malik was almost filming him, playing with his brothers and parents, with hidden cameras, it was so natural. He really held the film on his shoulders, and supported it with surprising ease. He conveyed all the emotions so well, and his whispered voice-overs were haunting.
Brad Pitt, also was so good. He was so subtle, but plays his best roles when he plays a parent (Moneyball, and this). He has such good fatherly instincts in his acting, and connects so well with these boys. He is utterly convincing as the rigid father who has a temper.
But Jessica Chastain is the one who truly, truly shines. This is only the second film I've seen her in of the many that were released in 2011. She gave such a beautiful performance, embodying the 'way of grace'. She was graceful and loving always. Just the way she walked, and talked was grace embodied, 100%. She was just so lovely, and so different from her portrayal of Celia Foote in the Help. I felt this performance was far superior to hers in the Help, but love that she is getting recognition, though she won't win. Jessica Chastain has proved how versatile she really is, and this performance was utter perfection.
And I retract my comment that if War Horse doesn't win Best Cinematography I might throw a hissy fit. The Tree of Life completely owned War Horse. It was a subtle cinematography at most times, simply following characters around, not having characters stay within the frames. And then there were the lovely shots of creation (does those count as cinematography, or visual effects?), and the shots of those on that beach in the last scene. And just everytime Jessica Chastain walked, it was beautifully shot. It's definitely a deserving winner, though i still have so much love for War Horse's cinematography.
Overall, I found myself insanely interested, though there wasn't a whole lot of plot or dialogue. I was interested and invested in this family, and I found I cared about all 3 sons, and the parents, and their relationships. I found them interesting, even though they showed me the mudane things about their life. While I felt it went on a little too long (my interest starting slowing around an hour and 45 minutes), it was an interesting film. It wasn't my favourite film of their year, but it was certainly an impressive film, that gives us things to think about. I can understand why a lot of people didn't like it, however. It's not a movie that's everyone's taste, and I understand that. With films like Transformers, which is all action and 'plot' and dialogue, I can see why this film would get pushed to the wayside, though it is an incredibly impressive film, should you choose to be patient, and understand it's different from regular films. Will it win Best Picture? No, it will not, but I still thought it was a mighty interesting film.