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The Tree of Life / L'Arbre de la vie (Bilingual) [Blu-ray + DVD]

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3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 22.99
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The long front lawns of summer afternoons, the flicker of sunlight as it sprays through tree branches, the volcanic surge of the Earth's interior as the planet heaves itself into being--you certainly can't say Terrence Malick lacks for visual expressiveness. The Tree of Life is Malick's long-cherished project, a film that centers on a family in 1950s Waco, Texas, yet also reaches for cosmic significance in the creation of the universe itself. The Texas memories belong to Jack (Sean Penn), a modern man seemingly ground down by the soulless glass-and-metal corporate world that surrounds him. We learn early in the film of a family loss that happened at a later time, but the flashbacks concern only the dark Eden of Jack's childhood: his games with his two younger brothers, his frustrated, bullying father (Brad Pitt), his one-dimensionally radiant mother (Jessica Chastain). None of which unfolds in anything like a conventional narrative, but in a series of disconnected scenes that conjure, with poetry and specificity, a particular childhood realm. The contributions of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Jack Fisk cannot be underestimated in that regard, and it should be noted that Brad Pitt contributes his best performance: strong yet haunted.

And how does the Big Bang material (especially a long, trippy sequence in the film's first hour) tie into this material? Yes, well, the answer to that question will determine whether you find Malick's film a profound exploration of existence or crazy-ambitious failure full of beautiful things. Malick's sincerity is winning (and so is his exceptional touch with the child actors), yet many of the movie's touches are simultaneously gaseous (amongst the bits of whispered narration is the war between nature and grace, roles assigned to mother and father) and all-too-literal (a dinosaur retreats from nearly killing a fellow creature--the first moments of species kindness, or anthropomorphic poppycock?). The Tree of Life premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or there after receiving boos at its press screening. The debate continues, unabated, from that point. --Robert Horton



Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Gary Fuhrman TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
This is, literally, a stunning film, especially on blu-ray. The natural first response at the end of it, if you've given it your undivided attention for its full 139 minutes, is to feel stunned into silence as if you've been hit with something huge and heavy. And the next response is to feel that you'll have to see it again to clarify just what you've been hit with. It's not that the film is conceptually complex or difficult; it's just that Malick, as in his other films, takes on truly enormous themes and takes them seriously in a way that filmmakers hardly ever do in our jaded and ironic age. This will surely strike some viewers as TOO serious, ponderous, even pretentious. Nobody chooses a Malick film for light entertainment.

The quotation from the Book of Job which opens the film is the first clue to what it's all about. As in the Book of Job, some of the most compelling "dialogue" consists of unanswered questions addressed to the mysterious creative spirit behind the universe. Or perhaps we should say that the Creator's answer is the universe itself. We don't see God in the film, but we do see the Creation, rendered with spectacular visual effects to tell a story informed by the cosmological insights of contemporary physics, followed up with the evolution of life on earth, compressed into a few minutes. It's left to the viewer to discern the connections between this cosmic narrative and the story of an ordinary family living in Texas in the 1950s, which is the other subject of the film. It's the members of this family whose disembodied voices whisper the agonizing questions to the unseen Creator in the first part of the film.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overcoming the Strife of Life Sept. 28 2012
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
The story in this movie is one that is all too familiar to baby boomers like myself. On one side of our upbringing there was a parent who was loving, enabling and affirming, only to be countered by a domineering type on the other side who tried to control and micromanage every last living moment to the point of robbing us of our joy. This parental polarity often led to a sense of growing confusion, frustration, and anger on the part of the children who had to negotiate the veritable minefield that often lay between the two parents. The young man in this movie (played by Sean Penn) who grew up in this kind of familial environment, has now reached adulthood and is looking back on those years when he and his brother were continually subjected to physical and verbal abuse from a tyrannical father. The movie moves in and out of the present as it tries to piece together this man's view of how this dysfunctional family ever came together and why it eventually broke apart. His reflections, through all this reliving of the past, force him to recognize how precarious his father's life really was in providing for them, and that he may have really only wanted something better for his children that he had never experienced himself: a sense of being independently successful. Identifying this failing in this dad made him realize how important his mother's selfless love for him and his brother was in overcoming the bad memories and encouraging him to live for the future. I was left with a very strong impression that love or devotion to serving the interests of others is the DNA of life that allows us to move on to the next generation in an evolutionary process where the bad gets chucked in favour of the good. While the visuals might be overdone in places, they do serve to make the point that life is bigger than just one generation of grief.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone Sept. 5 2013
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
Film's definitely not for everyone. Actually the film should be tedious and boring for most viewers as they will likely not find themselves relevant to the message it's trying to deliver. But if you are a thinker that'd like to get a perspective on life in little unique way, this might entertain you.

I honestly didn't enjoy watching this long film. But made me think more than most other films I watched in my life.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Sleeper of a Film May 15 2014
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
I am a huge Brad Pitt fan, and while I do appreciate the underlying messages about family and quality of life that this film has to portray, I found it to be more of a sleeper than anything. There are far too many visuals, music, and not enough dialogue to keep the viewer engaged (I believe in the first 52 minutes alone there was literally no dialogue, and nothing substantial happened). Again, I enjoyed the messages and motifs within the film, but it is not terribly exciting to watch.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great movie May 29 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I am a movie collector and I am pleased to add this movie to my collection, I am very selective in what I buy and enjoyed it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Visually powerful and emotionally unsettling Jan. 11 2013
Format:DVD
A visually powerful and emotionally unsettling film. Viewers need patience (or a doobie) for the first half hour or so, but this movie is worth the effort. And, like any great work of art, we will all take away something different.

Like Jack, I was too involved in my own adolescent struggles to pay much attention to what my younger brothers were going through. And, like Jack, to this day I regret my failures as an older brother.

A moment that resonated strongly for me was when the father apologizes to Jack for being too harsh. His response is, it's your house, you can do what you want. The youthful Jack isn't yet capable of forgiveness, but he's taking the first steps on a long journey - separateness, tolerance, and eventually acceptance - that Sean Penn continues in the final scenes.

Some wag - I forget who - wrote that Malick doesn't seem to care much for people, but he obviously never met a tree he didn't like. The visuals that stay with me aren't the cosmic pyrotechnics, but Waco's trees - an enormous diffusing canopy, enclosing the timeless, mythical world of childhood.
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