With a heavy hand

Jessica Chastain as Mrs O'Brien and Brad Pitt as Mr O'Brien.
Jessica Chastain as Mrs O'Brien and Brad Pitt as Mr O'Brien.

The Tree of Life (12A)

Director: Terrence Malick.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Tye Sheridan, Laramie Eppler, Fiona Shaw, Irene Bedard, Jessica Fuselier.

Running time: 138 mins

IF A film-maker ever warranted the term auteur, meaning an artist of rare imagination who exercises complete control over their creative visions, it’s the mercurial Terrence Malick.

In a career spanning almost four decades, he has directed just five films, which have all been nominated for or won cinema’s glittering prizes including the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Golden Bear from Berlin.

His latest impressionistic ode to human experience is a visually and aurally arresting triumph.

A meteor strike on Earth sends devastating ripples across the surface of the planet, segueing into a child escaping from a submerged room, a metaphor for the birth of baby Jack in the 1950s Midwest.

The camera stays close to young Jack (McCracken) and his brothers RL (Eppler) and Steve (Sheridan) as they suffer at the hands of their authoritarian father, Mr O’Brien (Pitt).

“Your mother’s naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world,” the patriarch warns his boys, who gravitate towards the compassionate and giving Mrs O’Brien (Chastain).

Meanwhile, in the present day, grown-up architect Jack (Sean Penn) feels disconnected from the jungle of cold, metallic skyscrapers that are now his home.

The soundtrack booms and soars Brahms’s moving Symphony No 4.

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by,” whispers Mrs O’Brien.

We’re very happy to fall in love with Malick’s opus.

Rating: HHHHI