The Family Order

So Terrence Malick has received an Oscar nomination for The Tree of Life,a much-feted opus that gives us a view of everything: the beginning of creation; being born,growing up,growing old; living and dying

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: February 11, 2012 2:29:53 am

The Tree Of Life

Reliance Home Video,

Rs 599

So Terrence Malick has received an Oscar nomination for The Tree of Life,a much-feted opus that gives us a view of everything: the beginning of creation; being born,growing up,growing old; living and dying. Malick is one of those fiercely reclusive directors who makes movies so seldom (in a career spanning four decades,he has directed only five) that everything he does becomes the subject of intense scrutiny. In addition to the Malick fanboys (and girls),there are cinema theorists and critics all trying to dig into his films to seek meaning: this is also a director who enjoys,patently,being enigmatic.

At the heart of The Tree of Life is a Texan family ruled by a stern patriarch (Brad Pitt). His word is law,and his wife,played by the superb Jessica Chastain,and his three boys had better obey or else. You didn’t have to be born in the ’50s to understand strict fathers: they are still in fashion,though they may not be listened to as much. This is what I found the most absorbing,this creation of a family,and its order in the universe.

One of the most puzzling (and endearing) parts is when a dinosaur comes loping across the water to put a heavy foot on a smaller dinosaur who is lying with his head down. What does it mean? Does the bigger,older creature make sure the smaller one,fatally injured perhaps,will never have to get up again,and is its act a kindness? Or does it hint at some hidden cruelty?

I found the overlong portion of the movie devoted to the whole creation thing,accompanied by sonorous organ music,trying. It’s all spectacular,but we’ve seen this before: remember the jaw-droppingly grand sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey? But Malick’s exposition,and exploration,of the family as the crucible of life,and of loss and redemption,is masterly. Pitt has been nominated for Best Actor for his role as a legendary baseball coach in Moneyball: his part in The Tree of Life was an equally worthy contender. Chastain,who’s also had a great 2011,is lovely. Sean Penn has a tiny role as one of the boys in a grown-up avatar,from whose vantage the story is told. In the end,I was left wishing Penn had more to do in this film whose sumptuousness left me a little hungry.

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