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The Tree of Life (2011)

PG-13  |   |  Drama, Fantasy  |  17 May 2011 (France)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 128,971 users   Metascore: 85/100
Reviews: 973 user | 574 critic | 43 from Metacritic.com

The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents' conflicting teachings.



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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 96 wins & 104 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hunter McCracken ...
Laramie Eppler ...
Jessica Fuselier ...
Kelly Koonce ...
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Jimmy Donaldson ...
Kameron Vaughn ...
Cole Cockburn ...


The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Drama | Fantasy

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

17 May 2011 (France)  »

Also Known As:

El árbol de la vida  »

Box Office


$32,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$372,920 (USA) (27 May 2011)


$13,303,319 (USA) (21 October 2011)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


In August 2011, Sean Penn gave an interview to the French publication "Le Figaro" in which he was very critical of the movie and Terrence Malick's direction. Penn said "I didn't at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I've ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context. What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly." See more »


During the prehistoric sequence, explicitly shown to be prior to the event which wiped out dinosaurs, we see a shot of sharks. Then we see a large Manta Ray. The Manta Ray evolved from shark-like ancestors only as recently as 5 million years ago, much too late to coexist with dinosaurs who lived prior to 65 million years ago. See more »


[first lines]
Jack: [in a whisper] Brother. Mother. It was they who led me to your door.
[choir singing dirge]
See more »


Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #1.18 (2011) See more »


Snapshot from the Island
Written and Performed by Tibor Szemzö
Courtesy of Leo Records
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Nature and Grace
9 June 2011 | by (Dallas, Texas) – See all my reviews

Greetings again from the darkness. Rare are the times that I find myself lacking words to express my opinion on a movie just watched. But writer/director Terrence Malick does not play fair. First of all, what director makes five films in 40 years? Who makes a film about CREATION, life, evolution, spirituality, death and existence? What director seems to thrive when no real story is needed to make his points? Which director can so mess with the viewer's head through visual artistry never before seen on screen? The answer to these questions, of course, is Terrence Malick. And I hold him responsible the fact that I remain in somewhat of a semi-conscious fog four days after watching his latest masterpiece.

Any attempt to explain this film would be futile. It is so open to interpretation and quite a personal, intimate journey for any viewer who will free themselves for the experience. What I can tell you is that much of the film is focused on a typical family living in small town rural Texas in the early 1950's. Brad Pitt plays Mr. O'Brien, the stern disciplinarian father and husband to Jessica Chastain's much softer Mrs. O'Brien.

Near the beginning of the film, we get Mrs. O'Brien as narrator explaining that when she was a child, the nuns informed that in life one must choose between Nature and Grace. Nature being the real time of real life, whereas Grace is the more spiritual approach. Clearly, Mr. O'Brien has chosen Nature, while his wife embodies Grace. Watching their three boys evolve in this household is quite a treat - and is done with so little dialogue, it's almost shocking to the senses.

One of the many things that jumped out at me was the set and production design of Jack Fisk. Mr. Fisk is a frequent collaborator with Mr. Malick and is also the husband of Sissy Spacek, who starred in Malick's first film Badlands. Unlike many films, I did not have the feeling I was watching a film about the 50's. Instead, the look is directly IN the 50's ... slamming screen doors, tree houses, and family supper time! But don't think for a moment that this is a story about the O'Brien's and their sons. This family is merely Malick's vessel for showing the earthly connections between the universe and each of the particles within. If you think this sounds a bit pretentious, you should know that Mr. Malick graduated from Harvard with a philosophy degree, became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and a professor at MIT. This is a thinking man and an artist.

Actually I would describe the experience as viewing an art exhibit and listening to poetry. It really sweeps over and through you, and takes you on a trip of introspection. So many human emotions are touched - the need to be loved, appreciated and respected. We see the oldest O'Brien son later in life. Sean Penn plays him as a very successful middle aged adult who still struggles with the death of a brother and communication skills learned from his childhood. This is an odd sequence but provided to give balance to the flurry of emotions the younger boy survives.

This was the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or winner and that means little if you don't open up as you walk into the theatre. It's a contemplative journey that you can either take part in or fight. My advice is to open up and let this beautiful impression of all life take your mind places it may have never been before.

204 of 350 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Perhaps the best movie of all time. abominablesnowbat
Where does this film rank on your all-time list? jordanw_182
What this film is all about, why it's hated, and why I love it... adr5500
is Terrence Malick Retarded or just on drugs when he made this one ?? auto78900
Anyone who calls this film visually impressive needs to study science. securejames
One of the most underrated movies of all time maguew_9
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