Release Date: 2011
Director: Terrence Malick
Why I picked this: Curiosity, and visual inspiration for a project I’m working on
As the title (and director) suggests, this is a very ambitious movie. It chronicles the beginning and end of life itself, and attempts to depict human life through the medium of a suburban family living in 1950s America. This is what could be called an “experience movie,” one where everyone watching may get something different upon viewing it. I personally found the depiction of this family to be much more intriguing; the visual effects-heavy sequences following the beginning of life came abruptly in the middle of the film and lasted for too long, in my opinion. While I appreciate the use of practical special effects for some of the visually beautiful sequences, I got nothing from watching them, and felt that I was watching “The Fountain” at some points. The O’Brien family has a patriarch in Brat Pitt’s character, with his wife played by Jessica Chastain. The film focuses mostly on the eldest of their three children, Jack, who is played by Hunter McCracken as a child and Sean Penn as an adult. The film depicts him growing up and his growing relationship with his parents. Jessica Chastain is gentle, playful, and authoritative as a mother; she encouraged her children to embrace nature. On the other hand is Brad Pitt who is strict, hot-tempered, and authoritarian; he takes great lengths to provide for his family and make sure his children are prepared for what is out in the world. Their clashing parenting style can be seen in certain parts, such as one in which Chastain wakes their children up playfully using ice cubes; in a later scene, Pitt walks into their children’s room, tears off their blanket, and leaves immediately. This puts the parents in conflict at times, and leads Jack to resent his father as he grows up. The film depicts his early stages of innocence, and loss of said innocence. He experiences the deaths of others, love, and confusion as he grows up; sometimes he finds himself with the wrong friends and is somewhat corrupted as a result, engaging in chaotic and mean-spirited activities. I had mixed feelings about the sequences that focused on Sean Penn as the older Jack; I liked how there was a clear distinction between 1960s suburban America, and the urban landscape in which adult Jack was surrounded by, with its tall skyscrapers and beautiful architecture. these scenes were intercut with ones with adult Jack walking alone across empty, but visually stunning landscapes; however, it is unclear what function these scenes had. Was it a visual metaphor? Was it some sort of vision? Although these scenes looked nice, I would have enjoyed seeing more scenes showing the different family dynamic between adult Jack and his older parents, which is only briefly touched upon. The depiction of a typical family dynamic is by far the most interesting part of the film, and I really enjoy the filming style. It has a certain naturalistic quality to it; I love the way the camera moves and how it works in conjunction with the blocking of the actors. Reflections are used almost like they are characters themselves. The camera moves around, almost violently, until it finds a subject to focus on, and even still, the camera continues to look for its next subject. It is never dizzying or annoying, and there is some truly beautiful imagery in this film.
Its ambition may be too much for some to handle, and its depiction of some of the bigger events in existence may come across as pretentious, but the film is worth a shot for its depiction of a normal family life and stunning imagery.