The Tree of Life This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 29, 2012
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“The Tree of Life” manages to pull off titanic ambitions and stirring intimacy simultaneously. It is a very personal movie that generates thoughts and retrospection of youth and the struggles of becoming a man.

The story focuses on an adolescent boy and his younger brothers, who are growing and expanding their experiences and knowledge. Their father (Brad Pitt) is a traditional man, trying to bring his kids up in a competitive world where physical and mental superiority are instrumental to survive. The boys cope with his demands by seeking shelter in their forgiving mother (Jessica Chastain), who shows a generous devotion to love and God, which she shares with her children. As the movie develops, the boys must choose which lifestyle is more rewarding, and decide to embrace either their natural instincts or kindness and tolerance.

While digesting the motifs and plot branches, I came to realize that the boys' life is not unlike my own. My twin brother and I participate in many similar activities, and I occasionally have the responsibility of steering him toward safety, socially or otherwise. My dad is very similar to the father in “The Tree of Life.” Although not relentlessly challenging, he encourages a habit of practicality as well as deft, aggressive decisiveness. My mom and the mother character are uncannily alike too – wholesome, humble, and brimming with compassion.

This movie's powerful story is conveyed beautifully and elegantly through director Terrence Malick's vision. A few scenes are particularly poignant, especially the “Moldau” scene, during which a montage of childhood is illustrated with the utmost grace. I honestly believe Malick deserved an Academy Award for his work. Some of the angles he uses to show subtleties in what we take for granted are nothing short of inspiring.

The acting, although admirable, takes the backseat, however. Chastain delivers probably the most striking performance of the film, and Pitt and the two child leads also do well with their characters, but they fade into the wider picture. In some ways, this is a good thing: Malick's vision didn't require the most demanding roles. “The Tree of Life” as a project surrenders to the philosophy of its story, a story that unashamedly proclaims itself “universal.”

I believe most people will find this movie relatable. The suburban environment, ambiguity of purpose, and community life all play large roles, and all of us, at some point, have felt the effects of at least one of these ideas. The family is synonymous with the universe; both cast us out into an unpredictable world but never fail to remind us of our eminent belonging. We are all a part of something, and although at times we may feel alone, we are forever symbiotic, walking the same planet and swimming the same waters. We witness the same disasters and fortunes, and in this way we are all involuntarily included in something amazing and somehow possible. This is the essence of “The Tree of Life.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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