Jessica Chastain, who plays the mother in Terrence Malick’s Palme d'Or winning Tree of Life, called the film, a “visual poem” recently on the Guardian’s podcast. And that’s about right, for the film follows no classic narrative structure; it’s more stream of consciousness meditation than story. And I guess it’s the poetic, non-linear quality of the film that has left many audience members baffled and even a little angry, and has prompted articles like this one in The New York Times: “Walking in and Walking Right Back Out of ‘The Tree of Life’”. In the screening I attended, the two young men sitting behind us, after 30 minutes of shuffling in their seats and only half-suppressing sigh and groans, stumped out of the theater with a “This is stupid.” Not the film “starring Brad Pitt” I’m guessing they were probably expecting.
The trouble without takes not just the form of his brother’s death, of his father’s harshness, but also the form of the world's scars: the neighbor boy whose head bears a patch of baldness, a burn from a vicious house fire; the man who limps with handicap across the street as the boys stare; the haggard prisoners, at a stop in the town; the man with epilepsy, in a fit on a lawn. Malick, through the beauty and light of the film, still peppers the world with these figures of suffering or brokenness, and like the vividness of a childhood memory, they cannot be shaken.