Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is much more than a film. That's an easy statement to make about a film that just recently won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and has been eagerly anticipated by cinephiles since this was the film that essentially forced Malick into retirement from filmmaking for 20 years before returning in 1998 with The Thin Red Line. In short, the film is an experience. It's a slap to the senses. It's a meditation that will leave you with far more questions than answers, but that's what makes it brilliant. This film will not be easily digested by the average filmgoer and will easily be dismissed as art house crap, which is sad because it is filmmaking of the highest order.
First of all, this film features some amazing cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. It's beautiful and haunting. Subtle and dreamy, yet unrelenting. All these elements become overwhelming. Malick's vision of creation (and subsequent destruction) of life on Earth is beautiful and completely engrossing, and undoubtedly draws comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The acting is top notch. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain both turn in amazing performances as the film's patriarch and matriarch, but one of the film's many highlights was the exceptional acting of the lead, played by the first time actor Hunter McCracken.
The story itself is where the average filmgoer will get lost. Tree of Life is easily Malick's most autobiographical film. Set in 1950's Waco, TX, the film is a series of tableaus depicting the gradual loss of innocence in a young man as he discovers the world around him and his place in the world. Anyone familiar with Malick's work knows that this is a reoccurring theme throughout his films, but never before did it seem so personal. Sadly, for those moviegoers who live and die for Point A to Point B, cause and effect storylines, this film will be lost on them.
In the end, the film should just be taken as what it is: A beautiful portrait of life and growth. The film will linger with you for days after experiencing it like all great works of art do. It will leave you wanting more... And dinosaurs are really cool.