Dave Vis’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wow, what a remarkable film this is... I read many reviews (better than mine, but I do feel the need to write something) that stated it's not for everyone and I fully agree. But if you're open minded, not afraid of some impressionistic images and unskeptical towards spirituality and philosophy, this might well turn out to be one of the most powerful cinematic experiences you've ever enjoyed.
I went in with some knowledge of the type of film, so I knew what to expect. Don't just read the back of the DVD, people. This isn't your average family drama with a clear cut plot or narrative about a difficult father-son relationship. Instead it is a work of art, dealing with tons of universal issues as creation vs. deterioration, character vs. education, grace vs. nature, religion vs. science, space, time, evolution, childhood, faith, destiny, afterlife and so on. Surprisingly it never feels drowned in its intentions. With most great abstract works of art, it is difficult to fully understand the creator's intentions, but more important it's up to the audience to get something out of it. It doesn't present clear answers, but challenges the viewers to create their own point of view on the great questions in life. The family drama functions as a metaphor for above stated issues (although equally enjoyable in itself), enhanced by the dreamlike type of filming and editing.
Cause apart from the content, this film really stands out for me because of the way it is presented. The coming of age story of the son in this film (an impressive display of talent by Hunter McCracken by the way) is filmed in a manner that makes the viewer part of his experiences. There's a flowing movement in the camera work (and not in an irritating 'shaky-cam' way) and events are presented in a fragmented style which creates the dreamlike state or the feeling that you are actually watching your own memories instead of those of the grown up son (Sean Penn). The life and (thoughts of) death of his character are mirrored by impressionistic sequences of the creation of the universe and the end of times. Both parts are accompanied by the most stunning imagery I have ever seen in film and a fantastic score, which made it an almost hypnotising experience for me.
So back to where I started, this is not for everyone. To me it made quite an impression, but I feel you do need to be prepared to some level. I'm afraid that if I went in without any knowledge, I could have been less lyrical about. Even now, I'll probably rewatch it soon, cause there is a feeling inside me I should and I would possible get even more out of it than I did this time around.