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  • Writer's pictureJohn Parker

The Tree of Life: Criterion Collection Blu-ray review

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Are you a fan of the cinema of Terrence Malick? You are?Then prepare to have your mind blown by this triumphant Criterion Collection release of Malick’s sublime, big budget art-house epic, The Tree of Life. At once vast and sprawling, exploring the most profound questions of our existence, it is also intimate to the minutest detail in its portrayal of growing up in 1950s suburbia. One of the most ambitious and impressionistic films of the last twenty years, it is a piece of pure cinematic poetry.

There’s no real plot to speak of in The Tree of Life. What happens in the film is more a reflection of family, grief, and faith, seen through the prism of a family living in the suburbs of Texas. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt are a married couple raising their three sons. She is a gentle, compassionate, and loving person, whereas he is bitter, distant, and angry. The death of one of their children is a catalyst for everything else that follows. Which is essentially a dizzying mosaic of memory, emotion, beautiful music, and divine imagery.

It’s an extraordinary film, pushing the limits of cinematic language. Twenty minutes into the film and you’re still not entirely sure what it is you are watching, and then Malick unleashes the greatest flashback of all time – to the very birth of the universe – and then takes us on an astonishing journey through space and time and the brutal violence of creation.

There is no middle ground here. If you are a fan of Malick and his deeply philosophical style, then you will love this film. This is 100% pure uncut Malick. If however, his back catalogue means nothing to you, then you will probably think this is the biggest load of wanky art-house trash you ever laid your eyes on. And I would find it very hard to argue with that. The Tree of Life is not a film to entertain. It is a film to enrich your soul.

The Tree of Life evokes that magical and elliptical sense of memory, dream, and wonder that Tarkovsky gave us in his personal masterpiece Mirror. Like that film, it finds beauty in the tiniest details of life, alongside sweeping cosmic questions of the universe and the existence of God. With minimal dialogue, experimental visuals and soundscapes, Malick conjures a truly profound vision. He poured every last ounce of his genius into The Tree Life. Nothing he has made since has even come close. It may be the last great masterpiece of his astonishing career.

This two-disc special edition is something of a bonanza of bonus content. Disc one comes with a glorious 4K version of the theatrical edition. There’s a 30-minute documentary – Exploring The Tree of Life – directed by Laurent Bouzereau. This examines the filmmaking style of Terrence Malick, and features contributions from David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, and special effects supremo Douglas Trumbull.

There’s also a terrific selection of content produced exclusively for this Criterion release.There is a brand new extensive interview with Jessica Chastain. There’s also an interview with visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, where he discusses how they realised Malick’s unique vision. Another new feature sees music critic Alex Ross discuss the relevance of the music choices Malick made in The Tree of Life.

The disc also comes with a video essay analysing the exquisite cinematography in the film, with clips of interviews with Emmanuel Lubezki. Also included is the brilliant and insightful All Things Shining – Part 5 – a two-part video essay from noted film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, which was originally created for the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

If all that wasn’t enough to slake your thirst, and you need more Malick coursing through your veins, then pop in Disc 2 and inject the extended version of The Tree of Life into your eyeballs. With more than 50-minutes of additional footage, this is one for the hardcore. If you still need more after all that, the booklet comes with an essay from film critic Kent Jones, and a wonderful piece from Roger Ebert, who in 2012 chose The Tree of Life as one of his top ten films of all time.


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