The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's fifth film and the winner of the 2011 Palme d'Or (in 2010, it was Apichatpong Weerasethakul's brilliant Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives—this decade's cinema opens on a very loud metaphysical note), is composed of four sections. The first section has two parts: One is set in the past (the 1950s), and the other is set in the present. In the past, a couple (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) deals with the death of one of their three sons; in the present, one of the sons (Sean Penn) remembers the death of his brother. This section as a whole moves swiftly (the camera gliding, swirling, swerving in and out of rooms and hallways) and is severely fragmented—now we are in the small town, now we are in an elevator that's rising up the spine of a skyscraper, now we are with the mother being consoled, now we are in a conference room with a view of other corporate towers, now we are next to an airplane that's preparing to fly at that hour of the day when the owl of Minerva spreads its wings.
Though this section wrongly associates modern architecture with loneliness, alienation, and spiritual emptiness, it has its moments of beauty. And this beauty is able to overcome the director's poor thinking and associations. The next section is about the history of the universe—the big bang, the formation of the earth, the development of life in the earth's seas, the development of life into sea plants, sea creatures, and dinosaurs. This section ends with the birth of morality: One dinosaur decides not to kill another wounded dinosaur. The dinosaur suddenly feels pity. It very well might be the first thing in the universe to feel pity. This new feeling gives it a sense of pride. The moral dinosaur raises its neck to the sky. But an asteroid falls from the sky and kills it, its new feeling, and the old world.
And here is where everything falls apart: the third section. The first two sections about loss, the meaning of life, human memory, and the birth of the universe lead to the dead end of a family drama. Worse still, the meat of this family drama is a Freudian struggle between an authoritarian father and a sensitive boy. The boy loves Mommy; the boy hates Daddy. Daddy demands love and respect from the boy; the boy wants to kill his dad and live with his mom. This goes on for nearly an hour and a half. I was expecting at least some Heidegger, and all I got was "the Viennese witch doctor."
The last section of this film is dreadful. After giving us loads and loads of this Freudian nonsense (the American family is not the center of the universe), we're shoved into the hell of a new age heaven. God does not exist.