The Tree of Life

Music Composed by: Alexandre Desplat

Distributed by: Lakeshore Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            The Tree of Life is a dramatic film that follows the life journey of Jack O‘Brien, the oldest son of a mid-Western family in the 1950s.  His relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) and his mother (Jessica Chastain) represent the opposite sides of the world, one showing him love and mercy and the other teaching selfishness.  We go from the innocence of Jack’s childhood to his adult life (portrayed by Sean Penn) as Jack struggles to find himself, questioning faith while searching for the meaning of life.

            The musical score of The Tree of Life was created by composer Alexandre Desplat.  Coached in his love for music by his parents, Alexandre was classically trained in music, but constantly fed on a musical diet of jazz and film scores.  Becoming a film composer, Alexandre Desplat had created musical composition for over fifty European films before receiving award recognition for the musical score he created for The Girl With the Pearl Earring in 2003.  Since then, Alexandre Desplat has been a sought after film score composer, working on the musical scores of such films as The Golden Compass, Lust, Caution, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Julie & Julia, Twilight Saga: New Moon, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (Part 1) and The King’s Speech.

            Instead of creating musical pieces based on viewings of the completed film, at director Terrence Malick’s request, Desplat composed his score based upon conversations they had about the film and its complex emotional theme.  “During several months I dreamed of skies, rivers, emergence of life, tenderness of brotherhood, father and son relationship, loving mothers, rising suns.  The score for The Tree of Life had to convey the river - like the motion of life, a fluid stream from birth to death, keeping a sense of Innocence, Purity, Simplicity. But it also had to oppose the Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Happiness and Sorrow. And express how Love can slowly morph to Anger and back again.”  This was quite a unique approach to the musical scoring of a film, but would it work?

            Having listened to Alexandre Desplat’s works before, I knew that this soundtrack would be infused with classical piano.  Listening to The Tree of Life Soundtrack, I was not disappointed.  The soundtrack begins in a light tone, the piano and orchestral strings bringing out the innocence and awe of youth.  I was amazed at how well Desplat could interpret the sky, the clouds and the river through music.  Clouds is a track filled with wistfulness and awe, and one can imagine spending hours just staring at the sky seeking out images in the fluffy whiteness of the clouds.  Listening to the track, River,  instantly reminds one of a swift moving river, winding its way over and around obstacles towards its destination.  The track is light and fast-paced and a beautiful example of how music can be used to represent life. 

            As the film moves forward and Jack is exposed to the less innocent incarnations of the world he lives in - sickness, suffering, death - the tone of the music becomes more somber.  At one point, you even feel as though there is an inner turmoil taking place within the main character - a battle of wills of good versus evil and the ultimate decision regarding which path to take.

            The soundtrack of The Tree of Life is at one beautiful and somber.  Alexandre Desplat unique approach to creating this musical score has completely captured the complexity of the film and the innocence of youth tarnished as it reaches adulthood.  The musical score perfectly compliments the story and, as a stand alone album, tells a story of its own.  The Tree of Life by Alexandre Desplat is available May 24, 2011 and definitely a soundtrack worth taking a listen to.


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