Jack O'Brien (McCracken, then Penn) grows up in the 1950s American Midwest with his harsh-but-caring dad (Pitt), loving mother (Chastain) and little brothers RL and Steve (Eppler and Sheridan). Over the years, events shift and shape the family, including illness, injury and death. But what does it all mean? And can the truths of humanity be traced back to the dawn of evolution or the age of the dinosaurs?
A kaleidoscopic style tells the O'Brien's story out of sequence, interspersed with the cosmos, primordial sea and, yes, dinosaurs. The photography and editing are smooth and lyrical, as scenes flow naturally into each other even though we're not sure why they're juxtaposed in quite this way. And along the way there are a few odd moments thrown in that leave us guessing, such as moments in an attic with a very tall man and a little boy, or a brief glimpse of a house fire followed by a scarred child.
But there's no need to fit the pieces together. The resonant central plot line plays out mainly without dialog, as gorgeous montage sequences depict key life moments, and the actors give extremely reflective performances. Malick's chief interest seems to be on the point where emotional and instinctual responses merge, so there are a lot of facial close-ups and moody monologs to go along with his usual images of trees waving in the sunshine and water rippling in the breeze.
In other words, the film is achingly beautiful, more like an essay about existence than a narrative drama. At several points voiceovers question God, echoing the opening quote from the Book of Job: "Where are you?" "Who are we to you?" And along with the internal yearning (such as Mr O'Brien's regret about not becoming a professional musician) there are explorations of compassion, responsibility and loyalty, all with an underlying sense of both menace and security. It's such an unusual, personal film that it really shouldn't be missed. Even if we're not quite sure what it means, we feel it.
Run time: 139 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 17th May 2011
Box Office USA: $13.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $54.7M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 212 Rotten: 41
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Terrence Malick
Screenwriter: Terrence Malick
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