-The quality of silence informs the preciousness of many scenes. Dialogue, monologue, float freely in and out of scenes. The cinematography is flawless in its perspective. We shift among the various members of the family, the youngest of three brothers not given a voice. The point of view we are given for this microcosmic portion of the film, the thread throughout, often rises from below, simulating the point of view of any given character. We interweave between them, and alternate throughout, but most note-worthily the beginning and end, a more cosmic thread represented with views of planetary formations, stellar phenomena, the creation and cultivation of life forms, and so on. What is sought in this film is answers to questions. The loss of innocence. The pull and push of nature and grace. We receive, if we view the film without an ironic or arrogant glaze, a sense of mortality and the utter beauty of existence.
-Following the family thread of story, we find Mr. O'Brien represents a strict patriarch of the family unit. Pitt shows his depth as an actor in each expression, representing a man struggling with his own demons, while steadfastly seeking a better life for his much-loved family, perfectly expressing the tumultuous nature of the masculine in America during the time period in which the film is set, roughly the 1950's through the 1970's in Waco, Texas, on into the era deemed present day. Penn fills the role as a man of means, tortured by his own past, feeling like the walls are closing in. This is contrasted with his workplace, an open well lit building in the heart of a metropolis.
-A plesiosaur regards its mortal wound on a Mesozoic beachfront. A parasaurolophus lying and possibly dying on a river shore is regarded with curiosity by another dinosaur. A mother receives notice of her son's death, presumably in the Vietnam conflict. A chorus sings as jellyfish fill the screen. Due to a flawless soundtrack to compliment the camerawork, the shift through time and space and intimately familiar interactions between the tiny cast of characters is painless, seamless, and altogether enriching. This movie is a rewarding experience.
-The title can be explained both in the recurring tree, shot from below, that emerges onscreen again and again. It can also be extrapolated in the parents of the protagonist as pillars, much as the tree of life in Kabbalistic theology, wrestling, as the film does, as Job did, with the psychological make up of God. The mother represents the passive principle, the pillar of mercy or as it is presented in the movie Grace. The father in turn represents the active principle, the pillar of judgment or as it is presented in the movie Nature. The protagonist, Jack, possesses a recurring name in fairy tales and folklore, and fits so far as protagonist rogues go, he's the center pillar, the grey middle path all men seeking balance must walk.
-It is of course always interesting to note the audience's reaction, that conversation you have with your date or your friend as you leave the theater. The man in the seat behind me that laughed when the parasaurolophus appeared on screen was muttering something about someone popping in a Planet Earth DVD. A young art school student was heard to start off with "I was thinking about a Warhol film at a certain point..." and the most frequently murmured statement among teenage boys was "What was up with the dinosaurs..."
-I couldn't help but notice telephone screens flash up throughout the audience towards the end of the film, people checking the time. The film's setting hearkens back to an age if not any more innocent then at least less complicated by the binds of social technology than our own. If one appraises the film with an eye to the message and has anything invested in that message they will walk away enriched for having seen it. To people more oriented towards esoteric cinema, it is shiny hip and soon to become old hat, or at the very least a good conversation starter. To the masses, the sort that would say, determine their viewing of the film solely based on the fact that Pitt is in it, there might be confusion and even churlish disregard for the filmmaker's ample contribution to cinema, a film designed to make a person feel a sense of the spirit which animates all life, the inevitability of mortality, and the importance of love within one's family. This was a beautiful film and I am pleased to have taken the time to assess it in my own fashion, for whatever that is worth.