Better than a masterpiecewhatever that isTerrence Malick's The Tree of Life is an eruption of movie, something to live with, think, and talk about afterward. The film begins with the O'Briens (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) receiving news of their teenaged son's death, their grief echoing through perplexing shot sequences and sparse dialogue. It's enough to confirm the scuttlebutt that The Tree of Life will be the most unorthodox Hollywood drama in many moonsand then the film's perspective switches to Hubble for a vision of the birth of the universe, from a nebulous In the Beginning ... to the first articulations of life on earth and the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs. Snap forward to the '50s, and the education of young Jack O'Brien (Hunter McCracken) during his suburban boyhood in Waco, Texas seemingly the daydream of his adult self Jack (played by a crabby-looking Sean Penn) returning to his birthright of memories: the indivisible combination of Mom, Dad, God, and backyard. Recalling the viewer to a child's awed first conception of the vastness beyond his proscribed world, Malick gives us fresh eyes to see suburbia as, yes, a miracle. Filmed in a headlong style that lifts sometimes to singing montage, the close touch of DP Emmanuel Lubezki's Steadicam brings forgotten childhood rites near, and the film confirms Malick as one of the few American filmmakers operating on the multiplex scale who makes movies feel like undiscovered country.
Sept. 16-22, 2011