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.


Terrence Malick


Terrence Malick
1,791 ( 208)
Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 116 wins & 126 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Brad Pitt ... Mr. O'Brien
Sean Penn ... Jack
Jessica Chastain ... Mrs. O'Brien
Hunter McCracken ... Young Jack
Laramie Eppler Laramie Eppler ... R.L.
Tye Sheridan ... Steve
Fiona Shaw ... Grandmother
Jessica Fuselier Jessica Fuselier ... Guide
Nicolas Gonda ... Mr. Reynolds
Will Wallace ... Architect
Kelly Koonce Kelly Koonce ... Father Haynes
Bryce Boudoin Bryce Boudoin ... Robert
Jimmy Donaldson Jimmy Donaldson ... Jimmy
Kameron Vaughn Kameron Vaughn ... Cayler
Cole Cockburn Cole Cockburn ... Harry Bates


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:

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Did You Know?


The origin of this film goes back to the late 1970s, when after Days of Heaven (1978) director Terrence Malick was working on a project named "Q", that would explore the origins of life on earth. He abandoned the project, but this film contains elements from it. See more »


When young Jack enters the neighbor's house to snoop, there is a brief glimpse of a tuned wind chime which is heard sounding. Tuned wind chimes didn't exist in the 1950s; there were only the un-tuned, jangly type (and very few of those in middle-class Texas homes). See more »


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

There are no opening credits. See more »

Alternate Versions

In September 2018, Criterion Collection released the 189-minute extended version, which restores several vignettes and additional scenes. The additions are as follows:
  • When Mrs. O'Brien learns of R.L's death in Vietnam, there are more shots of her in the bed. After that, a neighbor's boy brings over some food.
  • There are additional shots of adult Jack walking around the office building including walking into a masked ball.
  • Adult Jack visits the museum. He is always accompanied by a woman, while he seems to lose himself more and more in the past.
  • There is an additional montage of adult Jack encountering shady characters before it ends of him sitting in the airplane in panic.
  • Steve and R.L look at the chicks that have fallen off from their nest.
  • An additional vignette of Jack and his mother, which establishes the insight of his activities including lassoing and weeding. Dad then checks on Steve whether if he has finished.
  • In the dining scene after that, Mr. O'Brien drinks from a bottle of Tabasco.
  • Mr. O'Brien learns of a mishap that befell his father.
  • Jack talks to the other boys about his experience with the three-legged dog while the children played with it.
  • R.L tells his mother that she's not old yet, then while mixing she accidentally mixes with her hand. Jack goes out to the lawn with his father while Mother watches from the inside longer.
  • The Uncle Roy (Mrs. O'Brien's brother) vignette is put back and his presence excites and makes the three boys happy. However Mr. O'Brien is not happy about his brother-in-law and unceremoniously kicks him out of the house because he makes the boys turn away from him. (Note: This is one of the two longest restored sequences)
  • Another vignette has Jack and his friend ravaging the latter's house. It is explained this was done in anger he was often mistreated and locked up by his father (an appearance by Ben Chaplin) - this sets up Jack's subsequent change of behavior. Next, a violent tornado storm happens whose devastation can be seen in retrospect. (Note: This is one of the two longest restored sequences)
  • Jack and his friends hurt other animals and even destroying other people's property.
  • When Jack goes upstairs, he stares at the bird cage briefly before continues through the floor until he reaches a room that catches his interest.
  • Jack creates more problems, even in school and even annoys R.L. This eventually leads to his mother having to have conversations with some of the schoolteachers, and she slowly begins to understand where Jack is heading.
  • When Mr. O'Brien returns, he has a conversation with Jack, aware of his behavior and describes his feelings of his sons. He reveals that he had hepatitis during his work trip in China. He then has a short trip to the lake.
  • Jack's parents eventually decided to put Jack to a boarding school and his mother explains to him her decision to do so. This somehow has him finding his inner peace in the subsequent scenes in the new school. It also made R.L happy on his own side too. In an additional short scene, his parents had one more moment of time together at the lakeside.
  • Several additional shots were added when Jack is heading towards the beach, which includes a girl walking among the ruin, people coming out from a building into the open space and more shots of anxious children. Later he is seen walking back to his house.
  • The closing credits includes additional cast members who only appeared in the new cut.
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Referenced in Final de partida: Los premios Óscar (2012) See more »


Troops Advance in Grass
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
See more »

User Reviews

The Moments of Existence in The TREE OF LIFE
24 February 2012 | by seaview1See all my reviews

The Tree of Life is the latest film by reclusive director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) whose previous films displayed a simple narrative abetted by haunting imagery. This film takes a step further by telling its story in grand strokes of imagery. Though its technique may lead some to wonder the point of this exercise and dismiss it as confusing, others will hail it an ambitious masterwork. Let the viewer beware.

One family deals with a personal loss as it ponders the meaning of life through the point of view of its oldest son (Sean Penn), now an adult in the business world. Celestial forces of nature signal the very creation and existence of the universe and provide a majestic background to the birth and evolution of life on earth. We witness the beginnings of an American family from the Midwest in mid-twentieth century. Led by a stern, proud father (Brad Pitt), and a doting mother (Jessica Chastain), three sons experience the joys and pains of growing up. Through a rapid series of short scenes, this tapestry of sounds and images forms a mosaic of life's precious moments. All the while a voice asks the great questions of life and God.

Certainly the most ambitious film in the enigmatic director's career, it is also the most challenging. This is pure cinema, and it is remarkable how the film is able to communicate visually albeit without much in the way of lengthy dialogue. These fragments of life almost seem surreal as if from a Fellini film. In a way it is kind of an experimental film on a grand scale. It seems to ask, 'what is the purpose of existence amid great loss'? (Despite being a very spiritual film, creationists might not like the premise of some of the scenes that strongly suggest an evolutionary development of life on earth.)

Those who are able to decipher the abstract nature of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey will likely have a clue on how to access the style and meaning of this film. Indeed, some of the impressive visuals were created by Douglas Trumbull (Blade Runner) who did the 2001 special visual effects and helped to realize Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has captured some stunning visuals of landscapes and life that are at times overwhelming in their beauty. The musical score alternates between classical and operatic pieces although one almost expects a minimalist, Philip Glass-type score to pop up.

There are many unanswered questions. Which brother died and how? And what is the background of the oldest brother as adult? How has the father changed since the loss of his son and how does this affect the family? As much as the oldest son asks for answers, we want more information and must settle for pieces from a larger puzzle.

The film serves as a search for meaning and hope amid the vastness of existence. As we see the father teach his sons about manners, chores, music, fighting, and death, we may see something in our own common, shared experiences. Life is portrayed as a series of events that sometimes blur over time.

This exploration of the meaning of life may prove to be too abstract and a turn off for some, but to those who are open to a visual experience unlike any other, it may prove to be a fascinating exercise in pure cinema. Kubrick would be proud.

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Release Date:

17 May 2011 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Tree of Life See more »


Box Office


$32,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$372,920, 29 May 2011

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (Extended Cut)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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