The primary additions are in the central section concerning O’Brien family life in Texas. There is more backstory concerning Mr. O’Brien which explains him, for those who think more explanation is needed. For me, it does not hurt, but what Brad Pitt did with the role somehow proves explanation enough for me. There’s a bit more of Fiona Shaw as Mrs. O’Brien’s mother, and it is always great to see more of Ms. Shaw. Every moment is brilliant. The family receives a visit from Mrs. O’Brien’s brother, who seems to be filled with much of the grace of his sister. Mr. O’Brien does not like him.
Young Jack (Hunter McCracken) is given a buddy whose home life is much worse than what Jack has to endure. Do we need that? Not really, and I believe Malick was correct in not including it in the official cut. It seems best to keep the focus solely within the family. That being said, I am glad we have this to look at now.
There is a big storm that passes through, killing many people in that part of Texas, most of it shot from within the O’Brien home until we go outside to view the aftermath. Most impressive. Possibly too overtly drmatic? Brilliantly done, however. It seems to motivate some of Jack’s more destructive behaviors. But you don’t really need to see the motivation.
We see more of Jack’s bad behavior at home, in the neighborhood, at school leading to teacher/parent discussions and Jack’s being sent off to a boarding school. All well and good and more neatly biographical. But I prefer the shorter version that cuts from the family leaving the home to the middle-aged Jack reflecting.
There are minor changes in the opening sequences involving the adult Jack that make more explicit that the events we see take place in the mind and memories and imagination of that character, played by Sean Penn.
If I had never seen the shorter cut, I would think this one of the finest movies ever made. Ultimately I prefer the shorter cut which provides fewer explanations. This is a great movie that you must think about, and the longer version does a bit too much of that thinking for you.
But I am grateful to have this longer version in my library as well.
Next step: watch the 4K restoration of the movie on Blu-ray in the same Ciriterion set.