Terrence Malickâ€™s â€œThe Tree of Lifeâ€ is an ambitious meditation on human existence, a metaphysical journey that scales everything from the cosmos to microbiology and parallels the events of a small town Texas family in the 1950s.
Malick works in reverse, telling the story of the family (led by the performances of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) from the moment that it falls apart â€“â€“ when the parentsâ€™ are notified of the death of their son.
In typical Malick fashion, â€œThe Tree of Lifeâ€ is more of an artistic experience than it is a movie, overloaded with gorgeous visual shots and stingy on the dialogue.
Overlaid upon it all is a magnificent orchestral score from Alexandre Desplat, which when combined with an all too realistic shot of an erupting volcano, creates a surprisingly emotional quality in its sheer beauty.
Malick inserts a generous amount of these types of visual cues as allegories for the events happening with the family.
There are near 20-minute sequences in which no characters are involved at all; all that is seen is shot after shot of nature.
This will wear on viewers who do not understand Malickâ€™s intentions, but will reward those who give the film a chance and who can appreciate its artistic beauty.
One of the filmâ€™s central ideas is that there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace. Nature is said to be selfish and out for its own survival, while grace is out to serve others.
Characters are quickly identified within one of these categories, but as the film progresses it is understood that these classifications are not so black and white.
People are capable of living through both nature and grace, as is the rest of the natural world. Malick displays this effect through various characters, primarily the family itself.
These ideas make â€œThe Tree of Lifeâ€ a film that anyone can feel a connection with, whether it is on a purely human, artistic, or spiritual level.
And in terms of its epic scale, it is on the same level as Stanley Kubrickâ€™s masterpiece, â€œ2001: A Space Odssesy.â€
Movie reviewer Jason Berlinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonberlinberg.com.