Who's In It: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, The Sheridan, Laramie Eppler
The Basics: First of all, there is nothing basic about this movie. The closest thing to a through narrative this film has is about a Texas family of five struggling to relate and exist together when they are all very different people. They deal with death, fear, growing up, and just making it through a day. However, the story itself is woven into other visuals that make it just a part of what director Terrence Malick is trying to say. If you want something basic, stay away from this movie entirely. But if you're intrigued by movies that make you say, "Wait, huh?" then you should rush out to see it immediately with someone and plan to hold a summit afterward discussing what it means.
What's The Deal: This movie received some boos (le boos?) at the Cannes film festival, and I can't imagine why. Is it that fiery French tempers are ignited when anyone but Jean-Luc Godard tries to attempt a thought-provoking exercise in cinema? I consider this to be one of the strongest efforts in recent history to make a film that inspires discourse and that doesn't spoon-feed the audience the answers. Everyone has a different take on what in the world is going on in this movie and whether it's good or bad, and that immediately makes it intriguing and worth paying attention to, in my book. I have always counted on Terrence Malick to make movies that exercise my synapses, and he delivers that here.
A Method To His Madness? The loose, disjointed style of the narrative involves both the 1950s version of the O'Brien family as well as the present-day version of their oldest son Young Jack (Penn). There are no solid beginning-middle-ends in any scene, they play out more like a memory or a dream does in your head. Therefore, the audience is left with less of a definitive statement about what's going on, and more of an emotional connection (or lack thereof) to what they see on screen. We drift through scenes, getting a vague idea that Mr. O'Brien (Pitt) is overbearing and Mrs. O'Brien (Chastain) is very nurturing, and that the children are growing up with a strong sense of how to maneuver around the imbalance between their parents. Now, throw in scenes of Sean Penn wandering around the high-tech modern city, looking like the rug has been pulled out from underneath his soul. Add in a dash of nature shots, including but not limited to magma, the ocean, dinosaurs, and hillsides, and you've got this movie.
What Does It All Mean? The Double Rainbow guy would have an aneurysm while watching this movie. It is very clear that Malick wants us to have a sense of this family as a part of the entire universe. A child blanching at his father's touch is a microcosm of the dark expanse above our heads, and it exists alongside the tides, animals, and even God (or the lack thereof). It all depends on what you believe, which is why this movie is so interesting. Whatever filter you are watching it through is how you take it.
Don't Fence Me In: It's hard to say if I liked this movie or not. But as it came to a close, I almost felt like the entire 2 hours and 18 minutes was Young Jack's life flashing before his eyes before his own death. The movie seems biased, like we are seeing it from a particular perspective, but it has a desire for closure that I assume comes from being close to The End. I think that might be too easy a conclusion to come to though, which makes me think that my brain just desperately wants to put this movie in a one-sentence-summary box. I cannot pin this movie down, and for that reason, I recommend you see it. You may side with the French and boo at the end, but after sitting through it, you've earned that right. And in the summer, your brain might welcome that kind of exercise.