TOL poster

This is a polarizing kind of movie. The film school nerd in me appreciates the abstract beauty of the story as a living, breathing, exceptional work of art. The everyman couch potato channel surfer part of me is asking “Where the hell is the dialogue & why did I have to crank my TV to the max to hear what little whispering they did do?”

I heard about this movie years ago and it sounded crazy, but in a “Wow, that sound’s amazing, but there’s no way you could turn that into a movie” kind of way. They managed to pull it off by putting some of the most strikingly beautiful images on screen that I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon. It’s put together (by FIVE editors) like a masterfully curated tumblr feed, which gets really fun when they get around to the whole “Creation of the Universe” segment of the film (Look out 2001, you’ve got company).


(Best little cosmic fireworks show you’ve ever seen!)

You could argue all day about what Tree of Life is about. Is it merely about a man coming to terms with the loss of his brother? Is it about the struggle between a father not wanting his son to repeat his own mistakes and a son who finds himself doing so? Is it about the impact of randomness over eons that influences us from generation to generation? Maybe it’s about proving or disproving the existence of God? 

Maybe it’s all that and more, but let us leave the debate to the thesis papers & the over-analyzers. This is the Awfully Bad Movie Club, so I’m not going to over think this movie too much. 

We have a mother learning of her son’s death and being appropriately distraught while her husband remains stone faced, cold & distant. We have Sean Penn moping around a lavish high-rise office. We have the aforementioned incredible birth of the universe that leads up to the birth of Sean Penn. There’s a lot of biblical references – quotes from the Book of Job, praying scenes, solemn church scenes – which I’m sure made a lot of devout religious types upset by the presence of these guys in the timeline of creation:


(Dinosaurs. They happened. Thanks to John Hammond.)

What appears on the screen is Brad Pitt portraying a stoic, slightly tyrannical patriarch of a typical 50’s family raising 3 boys.

Daddy War Face

(Dear old Dad couldn’t be more intimidating if he had machine guns for limbs and wore a cape made of children’s scalps)

It’s here, with Brad mentally abusing his wife and kids, where we spend the bulk of our 230 minutes, Wouldn’t you know it, the oldest boy (young Sean Penn) gets a little bit fucked up. After he gets a taste of freedom when Dad (“Never call me Dad, only Father!”) leaves town, he plays Russian roulette with a plugged in lamp socket, he breaks into a house and steals some ladies undergarments and he straps a frog to a model rocket and burns the back of some kid’s head when it goes out of control. You know, typical summer misadventures. I’m sure these things are somewhat normal, but it just seems so much more bizarre since the only one who speaks for most of the film is Brad Pitt, who mostly belittles and hollers at his family.

In the end they reach some sort of tenuous understanding. We then go forward in time to adult Sean Penn as he rides up an elevator to some sort of etherial dreamscape where he makes peace with his mother, father and dead brother and sends him through the door to whatever. He then rides the elevator back down to reality and the movie ends. 

There’s so much left for the viewer to interpret in The Tree of Life; The low point of view of the camera that looks skyward for much of the film, the window filled openness of many of the sets that contrast with the resigned isolation of the characters, the weird screensaver segment transitions. If you’re into discussing cinema, this one is porn for you. If you just want to check out some super rad shots of outer space while you enjoy a relaxing herbal therapy session, you’ll probably enjoy it too.

But, for all the wondrous beauty in the film, there are some equally horrifying images – the bunny halloween mask the kid wears, the “Goodnight, we’ll see you in 5 years!” line from a creepy old guy & the carnival clown that swims around the bottom of a dunk tank.

I’ll give it a 1 out of 3 Cinnamon Bears. It’s pretty good, but definitely has some awful elements about it. Some my say that’s cinematic blasphemy, but I calls it like I sees it.