People hate film critics because of films like "The Tree of Life."

People hate film critics because of films like "The Tree of Life."

It's sprawling. It's ambitious. And - to paraphrase late comedian Mitch Hedberg - people are either going to love it or hate it or think it's OK.

Not critics, mind you. We will froth all over it (as I am about to). It's the kind of work you call a film, not a movie. It will win awards. It will be the stuff of film school thesis papers.

But many, many people will hate it, because we typically go to movies to escape our lives for a couple of hours, not ponder the questions of our existence and the forces that silently and methodically shape us. Still others will probably find it to be overblown and possibly overrated.

And we are all right.

It's the fifth feature written and directed by Terrence Malick ("Badlands," "The Thin Red Line"), and it's probably his most fiercely personal work to date.

We follow the events that shape a family, from their home life in 1950s Texas to the years-later death of a son. The father (Brad Pitt) and mother (Jessica Chastain) react to the death with their own unique flavors of grief.

In the modern day, that boy's brother, Jack (Sean Penn), seems lost in his life as an architect when an image brings back memories of his lost sibling and a lost youth.

That "Tree of Life" juxtaposes Jack's story with images of the birth of the world - yes, there are even dinosaurs - has brought inevitable comparisons to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's a fair comparison and good touchstone for how you may react.

The vignette style gives viewers little traditional plot to cling to, a potential source of frustration for viewers. But it's an evocative experience, as full of emotion as any movie in years.

The second act is particularly unforgettable - the joys and terrors of youth captured perfectly as Malick shows how a boy forges his future.

It is also, quite simply, one of the most beautiful movies ever shot. I think cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be awarded an Oscar now, as well as a Pulitzer, a Nobel Prize and any other trinket we can hurl his way.

"Tree of Life" is a film that makes us ponder the medium itself, its potential to unite us and, certainly, to divide us.