It's hard to speak about Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life without sounding as if you're descending into overly gushing hyperbole. But if ever there was a film that deserves it, it's this one. The above quote, as spoken by Brad Pitt's Mr. O'Brien, almost seems as if it is describing the film itself, because The Tree of Life is as close as it is possible to get to having a religious experience in a movie theater.
Watching the film, it is as if you are viewing the world through new eyes, as if you have never fully understood the beauty of the world until that moment. It was so on the big screen, and it is almost even more so on the small screen. The images may be big and grandiose, but high definition brings them to life like never before.
What Fox Searchlight has delivered is perhaps the most beautiful blu-ray I have ever seen. Sure there have been more sumptuous packages, more comprehensive bonus features, but the clarity and the beauty of Malick's imagery is so powerful and so primal that they burst from the screen as if they were alive. In my original review I wrote for The Dispatch I said of the film:
This is not a movie that is watched, it is a movie that is felt. "The Tree of Life" is like a prayer on film, a breathless whisper, a burning bush on a mountaintop, an intensely moving and heartbreakingly beautiful masterpiece that may come to define Malick's career as a filmmaker. One almost wonders while watching the film if, just perhaps, ingrained somewhere deep in its celluloid, Malick has captured a spark of the divine.Watching the film again at home on blu-ray I was struck by the same feeling. Even on a second viewing, Malick holds us in such a powerful thrall that he brings tears to the eyes just through the perfect marriage of images and music.
It's a remarkable transfer, and it makes an already beautiful film that much more beautiful. This is Malick's magnum opus, a summation of themes he has touched on his entire career. But here it is as if his imagination has been unleashed on a grand canvas both epic and intimate, following the trials of a suburban family from the Midwest with the same skill as it displays the creation of the universe. The blu-ray's lone special feature, "Exploring The Tree of Life," goes deeper than your average obligatory behind-the-scenes featurette, detailing Malick's almost stream-of-consciousness directorial process, as well as the casting of the three kids and origins of the film from dating back to Malick's early days as a filmmaker. While the set itself may be sparse on features, the featurette is surprisingly in-depth and enlightening.
But let's face it, the film itself is the real special feature. The headline of my original review was "The Tree of Life is a masterpiece like no other." I stand by that, and perhaps even more now than I did at first. This isn't a film that yields all its rewards upon first viewing, it's a film of boundless riches that continue to reveal themselves with each viewing. If it is possible to capture God on film, then Malick has done it. Believe the hype. The Tree of Life is everything you've heard, and so much more.
GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)
THE TREE OF LIFE | Directed by Terrence Malick | Stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Fiona Shaw | Rated PG-13 for some thematic material | Now available on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Fox Searchlight.