To say that ‘The Tree of Life’ was highly anticipated would be an understatement. The release of any film by Terrence Malick has become something of a holiday for me, and not just because this is only is fifth feature in 40 years. He possesses a voice unparalleled in film, a vision undaunted by convention, and a gift that yields a result more akin to poetry than what usually saturates theatre screens.
So, what is it about, exactly? To begin with: dreams, the universe, evolution, grace, violence, spirituality, nature. The narrative is loose and impressionistic, with the majority of the film set in Waco, Texas during the 1950s as three brothers explore their childhood as it burgeons into adolescence. Most of the film is presented as a recollection from Sean Penn’s character and, fittingly, ‘Life’ feels like a mosaic of emotional expression rather than a retelling of straightforward plot. But when thinking back on the film – as I have often done since its Toronto premiere – an odd thing has happened where the movie itself feels like a memory of my own. Not a memory of watching the film and viewing it from afar, but actually living it and reminiscing on an experience of my own. And I can think of no higher praise for such a beguiling and essential work.