By Carli Velocci, a third-​​year Eng­lish major, with minors in jour­nalism and cinema studies

For many movie­goers, watching a Ter­rence Malick film is like looking at a Jackson Pol­lack painting: It’s visu­ally stun­ning but ulti­mately confounding.

Take, for example, “The Tree of Life,” Malick’s fifth feature-​​length film in his four-​​decade long career. “Life” is full of philo­soph­ical mus­ings on reli­gion and the loss of child­hood inno­cence, but is clouded by abstract imagery and a narrative-​​suffocating inter­pre­ta­tion of the ori­gins of the uni­verse — from the Big Bang to the Ice Age.

The story jumps back and forth between the bucolic land­scape of the 1950s and modern– day America, where a middle-​​aged archi­tect named Jack — played by Sean Penn —reflects on his life as a boy as a way of exploring God’s master plan. Early on, we find out that Jack has never come to grips with the death of his younger brother.

The film soars when Malick focuses on Jack’s child­hood. His par­ents — played by Brad Pitt and Jes­sica Chas­tain — are hap­pily mar­ried and give birth to three sons, who live care­free lives while playing ball, going on bike rides and rough­housing on impec­cably green grass.

But as Jack approaches ado­les­cence, he peels back the façade of sub­urban com­fort to reveal a vio­lent and deadly under­belly. His father beats him; a house goes up in flames; his friend dies in a drowning accident.

The film is framed by an exis­ten­tial dis­cus­sion of the exis­tence of God and the Book of Job, which tells the story of a pious man with unwa­vering faith. The loss of his father’s job, his par­ents’ tumul­tuous mar­riage and the death of Jack’s younger compel him to reflect on God’s role in his family’s life.

In whis­pered voice-​​overs, Jack won­ders what causes God to inflict so much pain onto the world. What makes him decide who gets pun­ished and who succeeds?

Though beau­ti­fully shot and scored, Malick’s extended inter­pre­ta­tion of the begin­ning of the cosmos that accom­pa­nies these internal mono­logues lacks rhyme or reason. What is clear is that “Life” does not paint a com­plete pic­ture of Jack’s world.

Overall, the film poses more ques­tions than answers and leaves the audi­ence guessing about why Jack is sud­denly trans­ported from a sky­scraper to a beach and why his family is drowning in a flood. These impon­der­ables also leave me won­dering why I am watching.

“The Tree of Life” is now playing at AMC Loews Boston Common, Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square. Check local list­ings for showtimes.