For an art so young, it is not surprising that vast regions of cinema have yet to be mapped. Terrence Malick is one of only a few bold enough to venture into the untamed wilderness in search of something new; with The Tree of Life, he's gone deeper than before, and what he found is glorious.
If there is such a genre as the memory film, The Tree of Life is of that category. Framed by the premature death of a beloved family member, the story concerns Jack O'Brian as he relives extreme, ethereal, and sublime moments from his Texas childhood.
The film does well to express this restless, endlessly, violently curious boyhood. When you are a child, what surrounds you is your whole universe. And so it follows that the story of young Jack O'Brian should be placed so solidly on par with the frightening, magnificent creation of the universe and the ancient evolution of life on Earth. To a child's fresh mind, nothing has come before, and nothing can be imagined to someday be a memory but this electric moment. Such a vivid, immersive depiction of boyhood has never, I think, been shown to us.
And why not show the birth of everything? It is rendered gorgeously, and to behold such a thing strikes a cosmic chord in all of us, as we are all, of course, citizens of this universe. With such authenticity and grace, The Tree of Life shows us parts of the cinematic language rarely spoken. This film comes at life from both sides; the innocent, unformed, frustrated sponge of ever-changing youth, and the dusty, gray, frozen, existential nostalgia of stagnant adulthood.