The Tree of Life is not a difficult film to understand. In fact, it may be the simplest film that filmmaker extraordinaire Terrence Malick has made. It is in the execution of this simple film that we are given one of the most strikingly original and visually complex films in decades past, and perhaps even decades to come. Watching The Tree of Life I was able to imagine what it must have been like to go to the theaters and see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when it was first released. The Tree of Life is both boldly daring and refreshingly unlike anything I have ever seen before and also oddly familiar, filled with characters and scenes I feel as though I have myself lived through.
Upon insertion of the Blu-ray disc there is a note that the producers of the disc recommend watching the film loud to get the best experience. Aside from the spectacular classical soundtrack that fuels the film, there are many moments where voiceover dialogue whispers thoughts. These thoughts are universal and the idea of having the film playing loud seems to be the illusion these whispers have on the viewer at this volume. It almost begins to feel as though these whispers are being placed right in our ears with the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.
These whispers are the only dialogue for the first forty minutes of the film or so, which takes us through the creation of life and on into the extinction of dinosaurs. These sequences are spectacularly visual and they lead us into the intimate childhood story of Jack O’Brien, who is played as an adult by Sean Penn. Most of the film takes place during a specific period of Jack’s childhood as he faced the difficult challenges of becoming a man in front of his rigid and relentless father (Brad Pitt). It is clear that his harsh treatment of his boys is done out of love, wanting the best for them, all that he never had, but these sequences can also be quite difficult to watch.
This remarkable film is easily the most visual film of the year. Every image is an achievement, though it never seems showy even in the sequences with special effects and dinosaurs. Every image also seems significant to the epic achievement by Malick. This 3-disc combo pack includes the Blu-ray as well as a DVD and digital copy of the film. The special features are lacking, though the one featurette included is quite impressive. I would not expect to see deleted scenes or bloopers for a film of this caliber, but I would have loved a director’s commentary.