First of all, if you haven't seen the Tree of Life but are planning on it, it's best you see it in a theater because it is over two hours long and feels longer. . . if you try to watch it at home I can't imagine you not getting distracted. You will wander into the kitchen, you might go check on your laundry. So see it in the theater, see it on the big screen where you're trapped enjoying it.
Next, Tree of Life is very beautiful and it feels very Good, like there could be a lesson to it that might make you a better person. I didn't drink from it as deeply as Roger Ebert, but after one viewing I think I should read up on the movie, see if anyone smart has said something smarter about it, and go see it again, see if I can put the pieces together a little better than I did this first time. I believe I missed a lot of stuff. Right now I barely input on any of the symbolism to offer, hardly any conclusions to draw about the veering away from reality towards the end of the film . . . but we can agree that the movie veered away from reality at the end, right? It's not just me, right?
I wish to repeat myself: this movie is very beautiful, it would not be out of place playing as a video installation at some museum, and you could try to watch it for just the art of it but I don't think the mind can be kept from wrestling with the story and the meaning. Is this perhaps the grandest piece of abstract or experimental film? Is it safe to call this movie impressionist? Or is it expressionist? I never took art history, you tell me.
And also: Many are calling this movie a religious film. But is it? I'm not convinced. I have to watch it again. On first viewing I think Bill Cunningham New York is a more religious film or at least provided me with a more striking religious experience.
Clearly I am struggling here, but here's one thing I can say: I like the parts of the movie that were left out. While the Dad fights to provide for his family during most of the film, we know from the beginning of the film (as chronological order isn't something the movie always concerns itself with) that eventually he does well because, man, look at that house. Look at that furniture. Not a castle by any means, but certainly the home of someone who has accomplished something. Same with grown up Sean Penn . . . we're only shown the tiniest bit of his modern life, but the mood of was enough for me to feel like I didn't have to worry so much about everything that had been left out.