PG-13, 139 min.
Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw
With the Summer Solstice upon us, my thoughts have drifted back to Terrence Malick’s 2011 film “The Tree of Life”. While certainly encompassing a larger scope than just the season in which many of its events are set, the film is a remarkably summer movie. When it was set for a summer release date, I questioned it. Malick hardly makes summer blockbusters. Even though it most certainly wasn’t a blockbuster, summer was most definitely the right time to release the movie.
With most of its scenes set during those laconic summer days of childhood in a small Texas town, Malick has perhaps captured the essence of summer here better than any other filmmaker has before. Following the daily wanderings of the O’Brien boys, the film—like so many of Malick’s works—is highly impressionistic. That perhaps is the key to Malick’s success in conjuring that essence of summer that saturates his images. My own childhood is really just a series of impressions of memories, and it’s those summer memories that are somehow the most dreamlike.
I wonder what it is about childhood summer that does that. Surely the fragmented memories play a role, but my memories from other seasons seem more concrete, less fantasized. It’s those summer months where the child exists purely on imagination. There is no structure of school, no need to engage the brain logically. Our only purpose in those summer months is to play. It must’ve been the closest thing to dreams any of us will ever experience in our real world. Malick remembered that from his own childhood, and put it into his movie. The result may be incomprehensible to some, but the experience of it must connect with all our childhood summers to some degree.