The first great movie of 2011

It isn't for me to actually call a movie a "masterpiece" or "great" but Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life is just that - a mosaic of a film that tests an audiences limitations but more importantly the cinematic medium's limitations. No matter what faults you may have with Malick's movie, you cannot deny the sheer chutzpah and originality that went into its creation. There has never really been anything quite like it and I highly doubt there ever will be. Malick tries to transcend the boundaries of life itself by trying to find a kind of meaning that can possibly bind us with a higher power. His search is for transcendence, in the little moments that make and shape us. Death, morning, rebirth, transcendence are just a fraction of the themes being tackled here, suffice to say I don't think the Transformers 3 crowd will very warm up to the film's non linear narrative and constant use of abstract shapes and colors representing a kind of big bang.

This is a welcome return for Malick, who's last picture -The New World- I hadn't so much warmed up to as much as was just puzzled by its mystical nature. The Tree Of Life I got. I understood what Malick was aiming for, what his obsessions were and what he was trying to get at. The spiritual nature of the film is undeniable. Here's a film so ambitious that it sets out to find the meaning of life in its images and contrasting colors. It sets out to bring a kind of ecstasy to its audience, a maddening one in fact, that can resort to turning off the most austere, ignorant of audiences and puzzling the more adventurous ones. This is basically Malick refusing to please us with any easy answers and deciding to please his own subconscious in creating something that turns him on and that makes him curious about life itself. He is not only tormenting us but tormenting himself in saying there is no easy answer to be found in all this.

Malick tries to find his answers though the simplicities and cracks of life. He evokes memories of his own childhood into the life of an American family going through life's trials. Brad Pitt is Mr. O'brien, an overbearing, aggressive father to three children and husband to a quiet, fearful wife. She is played indelibly well by Jessica Chastain in a performance so incredible it will be talked about for ages upon ages in every film school imaginable, ditto the film of course. She is quiet because she has no power in the house, she is controlled and so are her children. The rare time we see her smile is when her husband is out of town and she celebrates with such giddy, exuberance, running with kids around the house. The scene is memorable because it shows darkness leaving and light entering. Every scene Pitt is in brings fear and trouble to the settings. He is a controlling, failed man that has lost touch of who he is. It's an incredible performance that might win him an Oscar nomination just like Chastain.

The Tree Of Life is a groundbreaker because it brings out a dimension to life we never thought existed. We get to see things we couldn't possibly imagine with Malick's poetic eye. Frustration might at times linger and it is nowhere near a perfect film (Why Sean Penn? What's with the ending?) but I'm reminded of a great quote by late film critic Pauline Kael who once said "great movies are rarely perfect movies" - that's how I feel about Malick's visionary mind fuck. It is such an inspiring work of art that you can't help but break out a smile at its originality. There hasn't been a more thoroughly breathtaking cinematic vision on screen in -it seems like- forever. People might hate it, people might curse it but they cannot deny its importance to the way we view the way we live and the way our world is shaped. Through the infinites of our deepest subconscious Malick asks us to take his hand and jump along with him, hipsters and tipsters might dig the hell out of his ideas but so could you. Go along with him.

★★★ ½ (PG-13)