Sean Penn in Tree of Life - so where are the trees?
Sean Penn in Tree of Life - so where are the trees?

(12A) 139mins

Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

AFTER a summer of blockbusters where the audience doesn’t have to think too much (or at all on some occasions) along comes this film that is designed to make you reflect well after the final credits.

Ostensibly it’s about a young boy growing up to discover life isn’t always fun. He and his brothers have a great time with their mother but struggle as their father excerts his discipline.

But that’s as simplistic as saying Shakespeare’s King Lear is about an old man who goes mad.

Director Terrence Malick, who also wrote the screenplay, brings in numerous elements to this beautifully shot movie.

There’s the question of faith when tragedy strikes and the conflict of nature within a material world. All these elements are grafted onto the film with loving care - and then there’s the dinosaurs.

In a powerful section that makes you aware of the forces and mind-boggling science that created the cosmos, the audience sees the Earth forming and then evolving.

Brad Pitt as the father is a man determined to better himself and make sure his sons make the most of life.

Jessica Chastain is the mother who is part of the ‘natural’ world, full of love and at odds with her husband.

Sean Penn, as one of the sons in later life, has little to do but look anguished and lost as he attempts to come to terms with his dad and his current life while reminiscing about his youth.

The three young actors who play the sons are superb and need to be as Malick believes in getting in close with the camera.

The ending sequence is pretty obscure but seems to suggest some sort of resolution between all the family.

In fact there are various aspects that need plenty of thought - the obvious use of water (river, rain, sprinklers) and the one-line questions to God throughout the film.

The movie is more a work of art than a standard film and as such asks more of the audience than many may be prepared to give.

four out of five stars

Steve Payne