The Tree Of Life
I will do myself and this phenomenal success of a movie a disservice if I try to explain any real piece of it. So I am not going to. Maybe just the characters.
Quote: Father, Mother. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.
This flick hooked me from the previews… I’m not going to lie, I walked into it with a bit of an idea of what I was in for. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain portray your average bear 1950s parents of three little boys. They’ve got the two story in suburbia and have that “Smoking a cigarette? Ok well now you can smoke the whole pack” kind of atmosphere in their world. It got mixed reviews across the board, at the Cannes film festival, in the big American newspapers, and even among the people I went with to see it.
One told me he thought it was amazing, another couldn’t comment because she was crying. The third was positive they were trying too hard, and struggled to stay awake. Nobody was wrong, it’s a matter of opinion. My opinion is that I loved it.
There are two things that dictate the pace: lots of art (nature) and a total analysis of a family (grace). From the beginning, we are set to view the contrast between these two – Nature & Grace. The film goes back and forth between graceful depictions of characters, and artistic views of natural beauty.
It was almost poetry. It danced on the line, but I can confidently place it in the realm of art. Like all great art, sometimes it is difficult to understand, and sometimes it’s intentions are unclear. Some people will really love it, and some people will ask for their $11 back. I am planning on going to see it again, and this is one I will buy for my personal library down the line. It gives us a glimpse into a point of view. A point of view from an era not gone, but maybe not as long ago as we think.
The art is a reflection that we are handed sporadically throughout the film. We see lots of nature reflected in images and computer graphics representing this ever present idea of nature. Volcanoes exploding, water flowing, the cosmos doing lots of cosmos type deals, and a fantastically short scene with some dinosaurs.
The grace is a reflection of our characters 1950′s lifestyle. It focused heavily on their reliance upon a deity they couldn’t always connect to, as well as a struggle with prayer (that although they didn’t discuss, was very much clear), and communication with God. That focus of these intricate characters was my favorite part of The Tree of Life.
THE LIST: Acting reflection
1. Hunter McCracken
So in any case, the oldest son, Jack (Hunter McCracken), is really the main character in this film, but as a child, not as an adult whom we see in flashes. This kid is the image of the youth of the 1950s. He gets the brunt of his father’s harsh policies and strictness, while his younger brothers get away with hiding behind their soft mother’s protection and general innocence. McCracken showed us in many different stages, the life of a boy brought up in this particular world. We see his hatred for an overbearing father, but watch him harbor his resentment. Deep down he embraces a love and respect for the man, despite occasional fleeting thoughts of negativity.
I had a difficult relationship with my parents as a boy, always trying to see how far I could push it (as we all did from time to time). For that reason this character really spoke to me, and reminded me of an innocence and a frustration I’ve almost all but forgotten. Some great scenes of neighborhood play, and many instances of “boys will be boys” had me sitting in the theater with a large smile on. Unfortunately the lady to my left was bored to tears. Alas. I liked this boy and his acting. It was just what the doctor ordered.
2. Brad Pitt
Pitt plays the father figure, Mr. O’Brien, and he is the dad you love to hate. Strong, intimidating, stern and focused. Focused on raising his boys to be MEN. Acting like a man’s MAN, being a bread winner, being the MAN of the house, and coming home to a hot plate on the dinner table. This idea, while noble in what it wanted, totally denigrated women, and would ultimately lead to the womens liberation of the 1960s. It raised an entire generation of men, to honor and respect their fathers while seeing that maybe it was ok to step on Mom. We know now (like they should have known then) that it wasn’t ok.
Brad Pitt masterfully played this man, who needed to carry the entire 1950s on his shoulders, while all in all did not have as many spoken lines as your average main character. His mannerisms, his tone, and he reflection spoke almost as loudly as his words.
3. Jessica Chastain
I wasn’t familiar with Jessica Chastain prior to this role. She very much had to travel back, to portray the image of this subtle, beautiful 1950s mother. She plays exactly what you would think of, but much more beautiful. She is an attractive woman for sure, but that’s not what kind of beautiful I’m talking about. When I heard “Grace and Nature” I knew I would be writing this post, so I really tried to keep an eye out for it. I certainly saw the undertones of religion as grace, without looking too hard, but I thought Jessica was the real “Grace” in this film. She was warm and her embrace for her family jumped off the screen, alongside a quiet disdain for the parts of her life she wished she could change. She was wonderful. I hope to see her more.
(end of THE LIST)
I am going to give an honorable mention to another person as well. I never expected to be doing this either, cause I really don’t much like the dude.
This movie was truly a glimpse into the prospective of the oldest brother (mostly portrayed as a child by Hunter McCracken) . There honestly isn’t even a plot. We really jump all around the timeline of this character. It begins when he would be 22 or 23, and then once in awhile jumps to him as a grown man played auspiciously by Sean Penn. Sean Penn does essentially nothing in the way of dialogue, and that’s totally fine.
His acting is done physically. A hand over one’s mouth, a look, a sigh, the way we see him from a distance, pacing while on a cell phone, unable to hear what he is saying. This is called physical acting folks.
For somebody who really doesn’t care for Sean Penn out in the real world, I’ve gotta say that he was excellent in this background role. I am officially switching my stance on him… he is Tom Cruise now. (What the hell does that mean? I know, I know.) So Tom Cruise is nuts, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love basically every role the guy cranks out. He is a pro, and for the most part, I excuse all his off screen antics
because of how much I dig him.
Guess what Sean Penn… that’s where you live now. You are aces in my book sir, and furthermore Jeff Spicoli, I will start paying a little more homage to the roles you’ve done that I like (and there are plenty).
You know what? If Sean Penn is going to get that much attention out of me, then I think we definitely need to do Brad Pitt for a couple minutes (not like that, don’t be gross).
Hopefully I don’t need to sell you on Brad. His resume speaks for itself. However… I work in a library (that’s right, I’m going to tell you a little story) and today, a high school student came in to pick up a movie she requested to help her write a paper about Vietnam. The movie was called Deer Hunter. I went on a rant for a second about what a great movie it is, and how much I love Robert De Niro, to which she said “Who is Robert De Niro?” Shocked, I turned to the next closest person (another teenager) and mentioned that the first didn’t know who Robert De Niro was. The second teen said “Who?”
So… for that reason, let’s do a minute on Brad Pitt, because I guess not everyone is aware of these heavyweights. He has made blockbuster upon blockbuster that have earned him more fame and fortune then a blogging librarian could even think of. But that’s not what makes him special.
Roles in films like Inglorious Bastards, Fight Club, Se7en, and The Assassination of Jesse James made him special. He is excellent in this picture. It’s mind boggling how varied his repertoire is. His skills at this stage of career are only getting more and more seasoned each and every year.
I hope he gets the nod, and the kid too, and…. you know what, I HOPE THEY ALL GET ONE.