Tree of Life

Tree of Life

4.1 10
Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain


The eldest son of a 1950s-era Midwestern family sets out on an existential journey that leads him to question his faith while seeking the answers to life's most challenging mysteries in this evocative drama from celebrated director Terrence Malick. Meanwhile, as Jack's (Sean Penn) innocence slowly erodes, his…  See more details below


The eldest son of a 1950s-era Midwestern family sets out on an existential journey that leads him to question his faith while seeking the answers to life's most challenging mysteries in this evocative drama from celebrated director Terrence Malick. Meanwhile, as Jack's (Sean Penn) innocence slowly erodes, his turbulent relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) becomes the specter that hangs over his every thought and action.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
One of the great human enigmas is the chasm between what many of us experience as "spiritual" from day to day, and the cold, hard realities of science -- a rift magnified ad infinitum for those acquainted with religious experience and teaching. Imagine feeling the intimacy of prayer or worship, or sensing a palpable emotional connection to another human being, but then, just as suddenly, being hit with the apparent meaninglessness of this on a cosmic level -- the fact that the Earth hangs in an endless void, ensconced by innumerable galaxies and subject to bewildering, apocalyptic forces. Or the concept that billions of years of evolution have brought humankind to its present state. Henry Jaglom puts it well in his opus Venice/Venice -- a reflection that he has since termed "the atheist's manifesto": the idea that whatever order we perceive in the world, or whatever significance we might find in human relationships, "is completely an illusion -- in reality, we know it's totally chaos."
Unlike Venice/Venice, Terrence Malick's avant-garde drama The Tree of Life doesn't negate theism per se -- indeed, by opening with a passage from the Book of Job, which quotes God ("Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"), Malick vaguely affirms the possibility of a higher power behind the galactic quilt. But like Stanley Kubrick (to whose 2001 this film withstands comparison), Malick does perceive the concept of a creator as basically incomprehensible to human minds -- a faceless, impersonal force behind the void. As an extension of this paradigm, the writer-director spends most of his time and energy contemplating the differential between icy cosmic ontology and the warmth of personal interaction.
To establish this contrast, the film initially hits us with a psychedelic compendium of time, space, and the universe -- from the creation of the Earth to the evolution of life from a cellular level onward to the meteor that briefly annihilated all Paleolithic life. Malick poetically crisscrosses all of this with the deeply subjective experiences of one Texan man, Jack O'Brien (played as a boy by Hunter McCracken and as an adult by Sean Penn). In the process, the filmmaker achieves real profundity -- sustained and courageous pontifications on the nature and meaning (or lack thereof) of human existence. The juxtaposition of the cosmic and the personal spheres also sets up an effective tonal contrast -- whereas the space sequences give us nothing to hang onto emotionally, Malick films many of Jack's experiences in soft focus, with first-person camera and tight close-ups, and gently cascading music on the soundtrack.
To call these onscreen events -- conception, birth, napping in a mother's lap, first steps, etc. -- "moving" would be a colossal understatement. They are also somewhat sad, as our memories of the cosmic prologue continually drive home indications of the transience and long-term ineffectuality of these lives. Whenever these devout characters speak to God (which happens on several occasions), a vein of nagging irony emerges, as an affirmation of the characters' own inconsequentiality in the scheme of things, and man's self-deluded need to believe that his problems and concerns are central to whatever force brought him here. Malick implies, for example, that Mrs. O'Brien's (Jessica Chastain) mourning of a son's death may not matter one iota on a cosmic scale, though it seems earth-shaking to the woman experiencing it.
That poignancy colors virtually all of the events that take place in the middle passages of the film, as Malick begins to strategically pull us into the emotional core of the lives on display. We get protracted glimpses of the dynamics of the O'Brien family during the 1950s and '60s, as preadolescent Jack grapples with his conflicted feelings toward his disciplinarian father (Brad Pitt -- an unsuccessful pianist and inventor-turned-engineer with a slightly stilted ability to give affection to his three sons. Despite the gossamery, episodic narrative, these passages are far more conventional than the metaphysical material that preceded them; they also represent some of the finest work that Malick has ever done. There is real magic in the delicacy of his observations about family behavior and interactions with one another, a dysfunctional father's psychological and emotional impact on his sons, and the main character's need to work through unresolved filial emotions, as young Jack wrestles with resentment toward his dad. For instance, only needs to show us Mr. O'Brien lying on his back beneath a jacked-up car and tinkering with it, and Jack eyeing the crank, to imply the boy's desire to kill his father -- it isn't necessary for the child to travel one step farther by lowering the vehicle.
Malick also scatters stunning, pointed visual metaphors throughout the Texas sequences that expressionistically heighten our sense of what is occurring inside of Jack -- as with an allegorical glimpse of a giant (presumably meant to symbolize Pitt who corners the youngster inside of an attic and forces him to ride around in circles on a bicycle. Up to a point, the movie's attempts to connect the metaphysical with the personal feel astonishing on all levels.
If the film disappoints, it does so only in the final 20 minutes. One feels slightly short-changed by Malick's unwillingness to go into depth about how adult Jack ultimately manages to resolve his inner conflicts toward his family. In lieu of giving us concrete insights into this psycho-emotional process, the film attempts to bring Jack to a state of grace allegorically, with additional trippy visual metaphors (throngs of characters walking hand in hand on a deserted beach, the dilapidated remnants of a door, a closing image of a bridge) that seem far too abstruse and dissociated from the reality of the central character's life to really succeed. This is unfortunate, for it makes the epilogue feel as impenetrable as the preceding material was commendably ambitious and stunning to behold.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Fox Searchlight
Region Code:
[Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Closed Caption

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Brad Pitt Mr. O'Brien
Sean Penn Jack O'Brien
Jessica Chastain Mrs. O'Brien
Hunter McCracken Young Jack
Laramie Eppler R.L.
Tye Sheridan Steve
Fiona Shaw Grandmother
Jessica Fuselier Guide
Nicolas Gonda Mr. Reynolds
William Wallace Architect
Kelly Koonce Father Haynes
Bryce Boudoin Robert
Jimmy Donaldson Jimmy
Kameron Vaughn Cayler
Cole Cockburn Harry Bates
Dustin Allen George Walsh
Brayden Whisenhunt Jo Bates
Joanna Going Jack's Wife
Irene Bedard Messenger
Finnegan Williams Jack at 2
Michael Koeth Jack at 5
John Howell R.L. at 2
Samantha Martinez Samantha
Savannah Welch Mrs. Kimball
Tamara Jolaine Mrs. Stone
Julia Smith Beth
Anne Nabors Rue
Christopher Ryan Prisoner
Tyler Thomas Tyler Stone
Michael Showers Mr. Brown
Kim Whalen Mrs. Brown
Margaret Ann Hoard Jane
Wally Welch Clergyman
Hudson Long Mr. Bagley
Michael Dixon Dusty Walsh
William Hardy Jack's Work Colleague
Tommy Hollis Tommy
Cooper Franklin Sutherland Robert #2
John Cyrier Biplane Pilot
Erma Lee Alexander Erma
Nicholas Yedinak Nicholas Swimmer
Claire Oelkers Organist Double
Thomas Pavlechko Hand Double for Mr. Pitt

Technical Credits
Terrence Malick Director,Screenwriter
Bobby Bastarache Asst. Director
Craig Berkey Sound/Sound Designer
Ivan Bess Associate Producer
Vicky Boone Casting
Hank Corwin Editor
Alexandre Desplat Score Composer
Joel Dougherty Sound Editor
Jack Fisk Production Designer
Dede Gardner Producer
Roanna Gillespie Musical Direction/Supervision
Nicolas Gonda Co-producer
Sarah Green Producer
Grant Hill Producer
Emmanuel Lubezki Cinematographer
Francine Maisler Casting
Brad Pitt Producer
Bill Pohlad Producer
Jay Rabinowitz Editor
Daniel Rezende Editor
Donald Rosenfeld Executive Producer
Sandhya Shardanand Associate Producer
Billy Weber Editor
Jacqueline West Costumes/Costume Designer
Joerg Widmer Cinematographer
Mark Yoshikawa Editor

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Tree of Life
1. The Two Ways [4:10]
2. Grief [7:02]
3. The City [8:26]
4. Creation [17:17]
5. Innocence [11:39]
6. Jack is now 12 [6:47]
7. Mother [3:23]
8. Father [10:37]
9. School [1:24]
10. Drowning [4:56]
11. Weeds [4:00]
12. "Be Quiet" [5:09]
13. Dad's Away [1:31]
14. Robert [3:59]
15. Mrs. Kimball [6:43]
16. "I Trust You" [2:28]
17. I Do What I Hate [1:52]
18. Father Returns [5:32]
19. BB Gun [6:49]
20. "They're Closing the Plant" [4:14]
21. Moving Away [2:31]
22. Eternity [11:04]
23. Was it a Dream? [1:14]
24. End Titles [5:49]


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The Tree of Life 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
dygunraider More than 1 year ago
The Tree of Life is without a doubt, one of the best films ever made. It allows us to watch, and develop connections with the most Average of characters, no Super Heroes, no Aliens, just real people, some might complain the "Birth of The Cosmos" part is a tad off kilter but it fits trust me, we see Humanity as the main focus, but are at the same time amazed by how little we are in the Grand Scheme of the Universe. Every shot of this film feels like it should belong in a Museum or in classes where Cinematogrophers demonstrate the best possible way to shoot a film. The story is Visionary, in so many ways its impossible to name them all. I know I probably sound like some Fanatic, as I know some dismiss this film as "Self Absorbed" or "Pretensious" I'm not quite sure what human being could concieve of calling this film those words, except perhaps one of Immense Stupidity who only values passing entertainment. That's probably one of the reasons why this film wasn't a huge success, you know? Last time I checked it had grossed around 40 million and cost 30 million to make, that's ten million bucks which is nice but obviously not the best it could've done, and nowhere near to the Big Box office films this year like "Stranger Tides" and "Dark of The Moon" Its really too bad, that people will watch films like those and then dismiss this as pretensious, when those films I mentioned are really much more pretensious than this film. Whereas the popular Popcorn fare assumes it knows what the audience wants, this film doesn't. It's more of a film beconning you to come take a look and meditate upon the deep seated Philosophical questions of life, tell me which sounds more important? Whether you think this film is a Deep question, or just Religious Propaganda(trust me some people say so) it all depends on you. I mean we all pretty much know what Transformers "Meant" dont we? This is a film that challenges you to decide. Which inevitably leads to some comparing it to 2001, which if you've read my review of that you know I found it just about Average, this film on the other hand is well above average, and I hope and pray it is within you to enjoy it - CM
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
I don’t often encounter films that leave me genuinely baffled, but “The Tree of Life” is that rare film for which my only honest response is “huh?” I suspect that the flaw lies in my lack of cinematic sophistication. Although I consider myself a film geek and I can usually figure out the subtleties of artsy films, the film grammar and narrative style of this film elude me. I liked what I understood of the conventional portions of the film, which focus on the problematic and often discomfiting relationship between a young boy (played as an adult by Sean Penn) and his demanding, relentlessly strict 1950s-era father (played by Brad Pitt). Jessica Chastain is luminous as the wife and mother, and the film itself is a masterpiece of stunningly beautiful cinematography. But please don’t ask me what the story means or how the various pieces of the film tie together, because I haven’t a clue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PoorYorick More than 1 year ago
Aside from the rather facile and sentimental ending, Malick's latest film is quite strong and ambitious though it will inevitably draw comparisons to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Malick must have been aware of this, but pushed ahead with the project anyway, confident that he had something new to say about the evolution of life and human consciousness. I'm not sure informed people will learn anything with Malick's depiction of an evolving cosmos, but the visuals certainly have a profoundly emotional effect that is missing from books that take a scientific approach to these matters (e.g. Sagan, Gould, Dawkins, Dennett, et. al.). Malick also doesn't offer any theories about the connection between a cold and unforgiving and chaotic universe (or perhaps multiverse) and the raw emotional impact of losing a child. Like "The Book of Job" from which Malick seems to draw inspiration, beauty, if it is to be found at all in this veil of tears, can only be come in the form of art and poetry. The author of Job (wisely) provides no answers for human suffering; he gives us instead his magnificent verse as consolation. So, too, Malick cannot tell us why we suffer and what our anguish ultimately means; he can only give us a very gorgeous film to watch and study and discuss. I think the movie is a very strong one indeed; but Malick does seem to slip into "Capra Corn" at the end when we see the dearly departed walking hand in hand on a beach in what is meant to be some sort of quasi-supernatural, "heavenly" world. So, who knows, maybe Malick is a more traditional believer than he makes it seem in the earlier, zen-like segments of his movie. Or maybe, like many educated Americans, Malick cannot simply ignore eastern mysticism and so gives us a hybrid of eastern/western spirituality. Overall, an enormously satisfying experience and probably the best film of the year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. I am frankly shocked this is rated so high. Rented the movie from Red Box without seeing how everyone rated it. After I discovered out awful it was, I went back and read the comment. Most people hated it. I have to say peoples comments were more entertaining than the movie.