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The Tree of Life

A movie directed by Terrence Malick

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Every New Beginning is Some Other Beginning's End....

  • Jun 5, 2011
When I got out of the theaters for Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree of Life“, every viewer was asked to put their opinion on a piece of paper as to determine audience reaction. It is a film that is very different. Terrence Malick’s writing and direction turns so many components, angles and layers that to appreciate it one either has to be used to a style of non-linear, unconventional storytelling and/or have a profound appreciation for vague, poetic voice-over to tell its story. I just had my lunch and I gave it several hours for the film to sink in as I write my notes to paper. Tell you the truth, this film may be one of the most challenging pieces I’ve had to review.

It is hard to describe the plot of “The Tree of Life” because there really barely is one. The non-linear part of the film is a visual narration of the birth of the universe, the formation of a solar system with the use of a verse from the book of Job. The majority of its screen time centers around the family of the O’Briens who live somewhere in the suburbs of Texas. Mom and Dad (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt) with their three children; all boys with the oldest one Jack (Hunter McCracken) as the key figure in the film as he is also portrayed as a grown up (by Sean Penn). Jack is torn between conflicting sides of love and hate; as he is shown unconditional love by his mother and a authoritarian presence of the his father.

                    Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life"

                   Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien in ``The Tree of Life.''

                   Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien and Hunter McCracken as Jack in ``The Tree of Life.''

Honestly I’ve only had three prior experiences with Malick’s films ("Thin Red Line", “The New World” and  “Days Of Heaven”).  The film is sort of a medley and a montage if you will. I suppose the proper term would be that it is a ’mosaic’ and it is all about ‘nothing‘ and yet there is a lot of depth to its screenplay. The film is just so rich in symbolisms and metaphors that define its meaning. It is the kind of filmmaking that gives the viewer free rein over its interpretation and allows the viewer to reflect, feel and give meaning to what he has seen. The film is rich with religious and spiritual tones that becomes the point of cosmic reflection as we see the universe, shots of prehistoric animals, and just how the universe plays a subtle but powerful part in the shaping of one suburban family. The film can be seen as something that is divided between the impressionistic and the abstract, and the other would be the exact and the drama that says that enlightenment can come from within.

It is hard to figure out what Malick is trying to say in the film, as I feel that each viewer would have their own different opinions as to what they have seen. There is a lot of visual manipulation that may overwhelm one’s senses (my head is still spinning) and it may give an impression of confusing factors. There is cosmic commentary under it all and for some reason, those cosmic overtones seemed to hover around the workings of an average suburban family. The tree...the roots...the branches and the leaves, they are the universe and how life begins and ends. The film is exasperating, and while I appreciated its brilliant layers, I will have to say that the film would prove taxing to the average movie watcher.

                  Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien and Tye Sheridan in ``The Tree of Life.''

Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien and Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien in ``The Tree of Life.''  Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien, Tye Sheridan, Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien and Laramie Eppler in ``The Tree of Life.''

                         Laramie Eppler, Brad Pitt and Tye Sheridan in "The Tree of Life."

Malick uses his seemingly signature approaches to filmmaking that he seemed to have mastered in his past films. The vague, poetic voice-over that defines the themes of the film and the classical music that set its mood. I do have some mixed feelings about its dialogue but the performances were very well done. Brad Pitt’s portrayal as the father is just filled with emotional and far-reaching sagacity of character that is birthed of unbelievable depth. The mother is played by Jessica Chastain who serves as the object of love and respect by their oldest son; she is vulnerable and submissive that sets an opposite to Pitt‘s more dominant side. I saw several themes of sibling rivalry and jealousy as the film seems to speak of parents having a ‘preference’ among their kids.

                          Sean Penn as Jack in ``The Tree of Life.''

                          Brad Pitt as Mr. O'Brien in ``The Tree of Life.''

I am not really certain how I would be able to say something else to share as the film is definitely open to interpretation and the beauty of the film is in finding those interpretations for yourself. I feel that I should stop otherwise I may reveal what I thought of it and I may ruin it; finding its meaning is the essential part of its presentation. I have to say, “The Tree of Life” is maddening and it is for the esoteric few. I liked the film but I would be lying if I said that it was perfect. I have to admit it felt rather incomplete and unfinished, maybe it is due to the limitations of my intelligence but Malick seems to have held back something during the film’s final editing. I feel that there were times that the cosmic sequences, the scenes of the past and the suburban neighborhood didn’t properly coincide with one another and feels rather lacking in cohesiveness (or perhaps it was its intention). The film is an abstract piece of filmmaking and please make sure to put your thinking hat on. Be prepared to ponder and to be immersed in psychological wonderment.

Highly Recommended! [4-Out of 5 stars]

Poster art for "Tree of Life." Poster art for "Tree of Life."

Every New Beginning is Some Other Beginning's End.... Every New Beginning is Some Other Beginning's End....

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June 09, 2011
I like Malick a lot, mainly for his lush visual sense and minimalistic storytelling and dialogue. I hope to see this one soon. Nice job, chum.
June 09, 2011
Thanks. "chum"? Hey are you channeling Adam West when he talks to Burt Ward in the Batman comedies? LOL!
June 09, 2011
LOL! No, just watching British comedies.
June 09, 2011
whew, what a relief.
June 09, 2011
I hate that TV show. Almost ruined comic books.
June 09, 2011
me too. Actually it did ruin comic books for awhile....
June 09, 2011
I don't think it quite did, but almost. Certainly it didn't help to establish that comic books could be adult and serious, but at the same time, if it hadn't been for the series DC wouldn't have decided to reinvent Batman with Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, and Julius Schwartz and that was really when Bats was reborn into his Silver Age.
June 11, 2011

June 11, 2011
Yeah, if you want legions of comic book fans to consider suicide!
June 08, 2011
So, when things are too complicated and layered, perhaps the easiest will be to find the most basic and simplest representation which most people can understand? Keep it simple might be a good motto ;-)
June 08, 2011
that is actually some good commentary. This film was definitely an abstract, it would be up to you to interpret it. :)
June 06, 2011
"the film is definitely open to interpretation and the beauty of the film is in finding those interpretations for yourself" - excellent writing WP, wonderful review.
June 07, 2011
Thanks, Alex. I think you should also check out Pandolfi's review since I think he may have a more interesting take on its themes than I did.
June 06, 2011
You say you have experience with only three other Malick movies. You probably know this, but this means you've missed just one of them (Badlands). I find it amazing that, in his nearly forty year career, he has made a grand total of five films.
June 06, 2011
I thought this was his 6th film as director; I missed Lanton Mills (though it was a short) and Badlands but maybe I am mistaken (it is his 5th full-length film). I always also seem to heavily associate Malick with Amazing Grace though he didn't direct that one and was only there as producer. You ever review Badlands?
June 06, 2011
I have not reviewed it, but I have seen it. It's a fictionalized account of serial killer Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. In the film, they're renamed Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek). Although nowhere near as open to interpretation as his newest film, it is very much the work of Terrence Malick -- meaning it's difficult to describe. It's emotionally distant, it's thematically obtuse, and it relies heavily on voiceover narration, in this case from Holly. It sounds like I'm being critical, but it is a very well made film.
June 07, 2011
Ok, now I am interested. I am not sure how I missed that one, but it may have been during the times when I was working 70 hours a week to support myself. Thankfully I don't do that anymore.
June 07, 2011
I don't know how old you are (and I would never presume to ask), but It also could have had something to do with when it was originally released, which was in 1973. By the way, I fear I might have misrepresented the film by using the words "serial killer"; this is not a suspenseful Hitchcockian film, but rather a slow, deliberate character study. In many ways, it's very much like Malick's second film, Days of Heaven.
June 05, 2011
Sounds better than expected and in fact your range in taste never ceases to amaze! Now this quoute was interesting to me: "I have to say, 'The Tree of Life' is maddening and it is for the esoteric few. " I would almost go as far as to say that maddening isn't what I look for in a particular picture but your score coupled to the scores of Pandolfi and TwoJewsOnFilm really makes me think this one's something special! Thanks for a great critique bud.
June 05, 2011
Thanks, Jay, I think the proper way to look at a film like this would be to see it as an expression of an idea, an art form only instead of painting on canvas, the art is rendered onto a film. It is crazy, and while I can freely admit that it was different and will not please everyone, it is a good film in the way it had been constructed and its ambitions were just so bold. :)
More The Tree of Life reviews
review by . July 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Evolution vs Eternity: An Odyssey & A Galaxy
The Tree of Life is a good movie. It is a deep one too. It asks many questions and provide no distinctive answers that matter to the world at large except those of our very own. It is also a movie that is a tad too long for many audiences, imho.      The Tree of Life is a movie for many adults but definitely not for children, despite the fact that half its cast is made up of children. When children are not matured enough, asking those very questions asked by the movie can present …
review by . December 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    It's but once every few years - and sometimes every few decades - that the great Terrence Malick unleashes another one of his bold, bright, and beautiful cinematic visions onto the world. He unveils each project with great confidence; an attitude that could come off as self-absorbed, pretentious, and indulgent; while others find plenty to admire about the man. He's a quiet fellow, and enjoys keeping to himself; most likely an avid observer of nature, human …
review by . May 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'The Tree Of Life' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Says Bravo To Malick's Brilliant Masterpiece (Video)
The Big Bang...Creation...Evolution...God...Religion...Life...Death...Family...These are the themes that Terrence Malick addresses in his brilliant new film, 'The Tree Of Life'.       In my humble opinion, this is one of the most original films in cinematic history.  It is also a film that will divide people...Some will absolutely hate it, some will be angered by it and some like myself, will absolutely love it.           …
review by . February 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
   You may ask yourself why a so late review on The Tree of Life. Aside from some personal matters I have to say that when I had the chance to write it I felt like there's so many things to write about this movie and that a shorter review will not be a fair exposition. Now, someone reminded me that I still have not written any review for this film and I was shocked to realize it so I instantly grabbed my pen and started to scratch my paper.      How do you start …
review by . June 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Malick's Meaning of Life
THE TREE OF LIFE   Written and Directed by Terrence Malick   Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn       Mrs. O’Brien: You’ll be grown before that tree is tall.       THE TREE OF LIFE is a true film experience. Writer/Director, Terrence Malick’s latest opus is an assault of the best kind on your eyes, your ears and your mind. It is mesmerizing from the moment it begins with a pattern of dancing waves …
review by . October 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Tree of Life: On Second Thought
THE TREE OF LIFE Written and Directed by Terrence Malick Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn      Mrs. O'Brien: You'll be grown before that tree is grown.   Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE is the most polarizing film I’ve seen in ages. It was widely reported that plenty of patrons walked out and angrily demanded their money back while just as many fans vehemently defended it, proclaiming the film a modern masterpiece. In fact, this …
review by . June 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Like a finely orchestrated piece of music, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a film that challenges the power of description. It is, paradoxically, his most simple and most challenging work; rather than appeal to the logical desires of the mind – discernable plot, archetypal characters, a clear beginning, middle and end – he relies heavily on visual symbolism, creative editing, and meditative dialogue, most of which is internal. …
Quick Tip by . January 03, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I decided after 4 attempts not to try to review the movie, it's too overwhelming in both good and bad ways to stay a manageable review. I do have to say it is similar in structure to 2001 and the other Malick movies: The New Worls and The Thin Red Line. And as an amateur photographer I can say that the movie has photographers in mind more than casual movie-goers expecting an exciting plot.
Quick Tip by . July 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It is what each of us takes away that makes it a powerful film. The highest evolution about humans and its relevance to the planet are being portrayed and yet it also hints of the end. Did I enjoy it?      Yes. But, I wish it's slightly shorter ;-) Sensory overload & emotionally explosive!        
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William ()
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Please "Like" Film and Movies and Keep the Economy strong....LOL!!      My Interests: Movies, Anime, History, Martial Arts, Comics, Entertainment,Cooking, Things I don't … more
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About this movie


The Tree of Life is a 2011 American drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick, and starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. The film premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or.
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Director: Terrence Malick
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Release Date: 27 May 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Terrence Malick
Runtime: 138 minutes
Studio: Chockstone Pictures, Cottonwood Pictures, Plan B Entertainment
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