It seems as though only in failure is great ambition ever spoken of as a favorable trait. This isn’t surprising, as a successful project will always be discussed primarily for its success, and an acknowledgment of ambition can be a salve in defeat. But only in the rarest of cases is the architect of a project given credit for, not just the assembly of something great, but the scope and the presence of mind to approach something massive and significant. In film it’s men like Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, or even James Cameron; men whose work hinges on innovation and imagination. Terrence Malick is surely a member of this class. In the five films he’s made since 1973, he has consistently (if a bit sparsely) assembled staggeringly beautiful pictures, all with the earnest intention of showing us something true and universal. With The Tree of Life, Malick has created a film that is ambitious and successful, visceral, draining, deeply consequential and lofty enough to be just a bit pretentious. This is the opposite of a director playing it safe. This is a swing for the fences, and a man trying his damnedest to illuminate the kind of mountainous existentialisms that humanity has been mulling for millenia.