There’s really no way to walk into The Tree of Life without expectations. Whether you know about it as “That movie that was booed at Cannes,” “The one with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as father and son” or “The new Terrence Malick film,” its reputation precedes it.

Normally in a review, this is the place where I would tell you what the movie is about before offering criticism on each working part and the piece as a whole; but to distill the “plot” of The Tree of Life is like asking someone to describe what they see in a Rorschach Test. While one person could say it’s an adult man’s fevered, fractured memories of his childhood on the anniversary of a haunting death, someone else might tell you it’s Malick’s shot-by-shot analysis of the Book of Genesis. Having said that, if you need a Reader’s Digest blurb, try to imagine Planet Earth-meets-Revolutionary Road; a gloriously shot ode to 1950s suburban ennui mixed with Hubble Telescope images of the creation of the universe.

Lurching between Pitt as a stern, stoic father of three and Penn, in a brief cameo, as his grown son tormented by the past, what could be a gripping tale of love and loss takes a field trip to the Planetarium when Malick decides to transport his audience into the cosmos to behold the Big Bang. Interesting, considering the images can occasionally resemble a fetal sonogram, but when the director veers off for a visit with dinosaurs and what feels like a 30-minute musical interlude of screensaver NASA photos, the self-indulgence becomes grating.

With a thundering operatic score and undeniable beauty, Malick is a director in desperate need of a strong editor. Overly long and intensely disjointed, The Tree of Life can be appreciated for parts – such as visual majesty – but not as a whole; for example, its inescapable, heavy-handed, maudlin tone.

While some will sing the praises of film’s visual style and bouts of dialogue-less-ness, there are better films in the same family, such as Baraka, Winged Migration, the trilogy Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi or even last year’s incredible animated offering, The Illusionist, that use the power of imagery and music in to far superior and more evocative end.

Frustratingly incoherent, drenched in off-putting religious overtures and lethargically paced, “Tree of Life” may soon become a verb for filmmakers who have lost their way.

Grade: C-

The Tree of Life releases in select theaters May 27.