Best Film of the 2011
by Phil Boatwright

20th Century Fox has now released a 3-Disc set of the Terrence Malick drama/fantasy The Tree of Life. Director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World) offers up his fifth film, a thought provoking hymn to life. Starring Brad Pitt (in an Oscar worthy performance), Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, it’s an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships, and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife.

I gave this film a positive review when first released, and while it is not everybody’s cup of tea, I remain devoted to the film, believing it to be the best film of 2011.

With a tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrik’s 2001, this visual and viscerally emotional feast is sparked by exquisite imagery that is imaginative and profound, intimate and epic. The Tree of Life fearlessly examines ethereal questions with a spirituality that is neither pious nor prejudiced. Understand, this film doesn’t proselytize a certain religion. It does, however, what so few films do: it suggests that we become aware of spiritual matters and rely on faith when the conundrums of the day overwhelm. Like any artist attempting profundity, Terrance Malick provides an atmosphere and sets a mood suitable for examining our own beliefs, thus giving the viewer a renewed desire to share them with others. At least that is what happened for me.

How near my insights reflect Terrance Malick’s true intent, who can say? Theologians may counter with the perspective that Mr. Malick’s lofty resonance is in actuality little more than an arty and incoherent introspection. But detractors cannot deny the film’s ability to cause discussion.

At first you’ll ask, what was that all about? We all did. But as you ponder the film’s visuals and its intent, you will come to the joyous revelation that you’ve just had an insightful motion picture experience. It’s a film where CGI effects are used to support the theme and performance, not dominate them. And Malick does more than awe us with his narrative; he taps into our subconscious, delving into spiritual and life-altering subjects.

In an era of “reality” entertainment that often limelight’s insipid subjects such as the plight of the Kardasians squeezing oversized bottoms into undersized briefs, Terrance Malick has used a free-form art-house film to suggest the omniscient stature of God.

Side note: You know how I’m always griping over the defilement of language in movies? Well, I find it interesting and supportive to my cause that here we have a writer/director dealing with topics ranging from parental abuse, to the coming of age, to the creation of creation, without the profane use of God’s name, the now prevalent use of Christ’s name as mere expletive, or the common s- and f-words sprinkled through the dialogue in an effort to express emotion. Mr. Malick uses language, he doesn’t abuse it. At least, not in this film.

PG-13 (one or two minor expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language; the father has emotional problems, probably from a sense of inadequacy and he takes it out on his family through verbal intimidation and on one occasion, physically; we learn of a death which has an emotional impact on the family, but the material is handled well by the filmmaker, causing us to care for those involved, not depressing us).

The three-disc set includes a Blue-Ray version with a special: Exploring The Tree of Life. Disc 2 is the DVD version and Disc 3 is a digital copy.