Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play parents to sons  (Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan)

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play parents to sons (Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan)

Tree of Life confounds as it uplifts

For its first film of the fall season, the Vernon Film Society presents  Tree of Life, by Oscar-nominated director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven), the recipient of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

For its first film of the fall season, the Vernon Film Society presents  Tree of Life, by Oscar-nominated director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven), the recipient of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The film is not a story, but an impression of a childhood –– perhaps Malick’s own childhood –– of feeling the love of one’s parents, of experiencing the arrival of a sibling, of learning to walk, of a thousand things that are taken for granted.

In the mother’s (Jessica Chastain, The Debt) opening line of dialogue she states,  “The nuns told us that there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace.”

In the film, the characters show how much the difference between these two paths influences the personalities of the characters and the lives that they lead.

In the central story, a family unexpectedly loses one of their three sons. This tragedy introduces a fragmented narrative that is gov-erned by memory, imagination, and emotion.

The film focuses primarily on the formative years of the three brothers as they grow up in the idyl-lic suburbs of 1950s’ Texas. The contrast between their oppressive father (Brad Pitt, Inglorious Basterds, The Curious Case of Benjamin But-ton) and uplifting mother is crystallized in the eldest son, Jack (new-comer Hunter McCracken), who wrestles with their conflicting influences and the loss of his younger brother into his adulthood.

In glimpses of present day, it is clear that middle-aged Jack (Sean Penn, Milk, Mystic River) is still haunted by the scars of his youth.

The film alternates between the story of the family’s tragedy and a series of images ranging from prehistoric to cosmic, which give scope and dimension to the their pain.

Visually exploring creation, destruction and all forms of life spanning from genesis to the birth of a child, the camera journeys across the earth, under the sea and into the heavens, creating a visual poem that contemplates the nature of time, space and spiri-tuality.

Malick has made just five films in the last 40 years and all have been worthy of discussion. Reviewers either give Tree of Life top marks or just a passing grade.

However, as film critic Roger Ebert points out, “I don’t know when a film has connected more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of The Tree of Life reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me. If I set out to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick’s gift, it would look so much like this. His scenes portray a childhood in a town in the American midlands, where life flows in and out through open windows. There is a father who maintains discipline and a mother who exudes forgiveness, and long summer days of play and idleness and urgent unsaid questions about the meaning of things.”

The Tree of Life will be shown at the Towne Cinema Monday, Sept. 12  at 5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Pease note new times for this presentation.) Tickets are available at the door and one week ahead at the theatre and the Bean Scene for $7.