Director Terrence Malick has generally been well known for quality over quantity with his films. The Tree of Life is only Malick’s fifth film in a nearly forty year career. The only previous film of Malick’s that I saw was 1998’s The Thin Line, which has a few stylistic similarities to this film (most notable the use the the character’s inner monologues).
Tree of Life can most definitely be described as an art film and I am sure that some may be put off the the film’s long (138 min) running time and its slow pace.
The film is quite surreal at times, with many scenes echoing sequences in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (a long section about the creation of the universe, complete with dinosaurs, comes to mind). The central narrative of the film deals with a man (Sean Penn) reminiscing about his childhood, in which he grew up with a harsh and stern father (Brad Pitt). The film does not follow standard narrative conventions (the main narrative doesn’t begin until nearly an hour into the film) and it would be easy for casual viewers to get lost and confused with the film.
That said, I thought that the film was absolutely spectacular, with some breathtaking cinematography. I’d probably have to see the film a couple more times to completely understand it, but I still say that it’s one of the best films of the year.