The Tree of Life (2011) Poster

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Sheesh... skip all the other reviews. Just read this.
rooprect3 July 2011
I've just wasted my time reading 20 IMDb reviews for "Tree of Life", both love-its and hate-its. They might as well be telling you how they feel about the colour blue. Subjective, subjective, subjective.

So let's try something different. I'm not going to tell you whether I loved or hated this movie. I'm just going to tell you what to expect. Without either praising or disparaging this film, I'd describe it as being a mix of Fellini, Kubrick, IMAX and "Stand by Me".

This film is presented in 4 distinct acts, each lasting between 30-45 mins. The acts are very disjoint, and although they are woven together by common thematic elements, the experience can be very disorienting. The director seemed to pattern this film after Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" with its 4 contrasting sections.

Act 1: Setting. The film begins with a peek into the life of a 1950s American family that suffers a tragedy. It leaps forward and back in time, setting up the individual characters and their roles in the drama. Though presented in a very fragmented way, this part should be easy enough to follow.

Act 2: Tone. The next sequence, lasting about 30 minutes, is a very impressionistic journey through space, time and evolution. Be prepared. There may be a few voice-overs, but otherwise it's completely without dialogue, actors or events. The best way to describe it is to say it's like an IMAX film with the narration turned off. It's somewhat reminiscent of the "acid trip sequence" at the end of "2001".

Act 3: Plot. After that, we return to the 1950s. This 3rd sequence makes up the body of this film. Having established the setting & tone, the director gives us a story (more or less). It's presented in a series of vignettes focusing mostly on the love-hate relationship between a boy and his father. This mirrors the love-hate relationship that each character has with goodness. Both the father & son are jerks struggling to become good, each in his own way. This portion of the film reminded me of a dark, disturbing version of "Stand By Me".

Act 4: Conclusion. We return to another impressionistic sequence, this time including the main characters and short bits of dialogue & voice-overs. To some of the audience it may give closure & satisfaction. To others, it may just plain suck.

For the sake of presenting an objective review, I'll withhold my own opinion. But I did want to mention some of the reactions I observed in the theater and in the parking lot afterwards. In an audience of about 100, I saw 4 people walk out. (Well, 5, but I think that guy just spilled lemonade on himself.) Most of the audience seemed attentive, but I did hear a lot of yawns and uncomfortable fidgeting. When the end credits came up there was dead silence as everyone filed out. It was pretty uncomfortable. In the parking lot there was a man who hated the movie so much I feared for my life. Seriously, this guy was about to plow his car through a storefront. Others praised the film's technical merits and cinematography but remained lukewarm, if not mostly negative, with their overall impression. Several people were intent on discussing the films philosophical merits, but this only infuriated the angry guy, so everyone just went home.

If I were to compare this to other films/directors, I'd say it's very Tarkovsky-like (Stalker, Mirror, etc). As I mentioned above, it's also much like Kubrick's "2001"--if you were to strip out the suspenseful parts about Hal and the Discovery. Perhaps it's also a bit like Wim Wenders' "Paris Texas" in that it wanders around a lot before coming to its destination.
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A Bold And Epic Exercise
CalRhys1 July 2014
Terence Malick's existential and experimental drama is truly something special. When I first started watching the film, I was trying to figure out what Malick was aiming to portray due to the film's somewhat convoluted structure, but towards the end, I took in every aspect of the film, the themes of family, of existence, of life in general. Many see this as a hit-and-miss film, but unless you truly focus your attention, you'll miss the point it's trying to make. Is it pretentious? Indeed, but it's equally an amazing picture.

We sit for 2 hours and follow Jack, a young child growing up in a dysfunctional house with Brad Pitt playing (extremely well) his strict and overwhelming father in the 1950s. The story feels inspired by the likes of '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the art-house feel of Von Trier, but despite this, 'The Tree of Life' has its own unique and bold style that works well in creating a haunting and emotional visual treat, accompanied with fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain and stunning cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. 'The Tree of Life' is a bold and epic exercise from Malick that acts as a commentary on our society, a truly rewarding view.
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I will be true to you. Whatever comes.
SantiagoDM117 December 2019
The Tree of Life presents an impressionist story of an American Midwestern family in the 1950s, which follows the vital course of the eldest son, Jack O'Brien by his formative growing-up period with his parents, and his two younger brothers, R.L. and Steve through the innocence of childhood until the disappointment of his mature years, in his attempt to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Jack finds himself lost in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning faith.

It is a rumination of life itself in the visage of human existence. A filmic discourse through the origin the universe, the birth and grow of life on Earth, in which an eternal flash-forward of the couple's grown-up son infiltrates surreptitiously in a visual and spiritual epic deeply compromised to resonate with pertinent questions full of intricate profundity.

The film is presented into two differentiated parts, the first one begins with journey through the cosmos, where Malick proposes a tour full of opulent images and admirable beauty. It is an introductory part to what comes next, a way to take us and prepare for the history of the family itself, which is already the second part of the film, and in which we can already notice a clear symbolism of what is relevant.

Malick's unconventional storytelling, poetic conception of the story and permanent use of hand held camera breeds special intimacy featured on past contemplative works like The Thin Red Line. As ambitious as it seems, the film succeeds to reach the viewers most profound sensibilities with powerful and etherial imagery of existence.

The Tree of Life is a remarkable and honest experience that subtly asks a lost soul of the modern world for the meaning of life. It's possibly one the best movies ever made, if not the best, as Terrence Malick proves to possess the key of a room few other directors have opened before, the key to the true nature of film.

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RResende7 June 2011
How do you watch such a film? You've got to lower any defenses you have. You've got to not allow yourself to try to make a sense out of everything you see. You've got to take it all, and let it enter you, just as smoothly as the film enters dinosaurs, cells, planetary evolution, or a simple living room of a troubled family. Make no judgements, consider nothing except the pure experience of being there, wherever the film takes you. Search no explanation, for there was no real rational reason other than intuition for images to be as they are.

Imagine a film about everything, with a remote storyline that talks about every theme, in every possible time of the world.

Imagine a film without a beginning or an ending. Circular meta-narratives, where you can pick up on any spot (i mean any) and you can create whatever inner narrative you want. A sky of images (like the mosaic poster of the film) where you can pick your own choices, and create whatever story you like. Or you can choose to frame the more palpable story visible in the film in whatever fashion you want. Up to you. The challenge is that you have to test the limits of your own imagination to live the film in its full extent. Nothing is predefined. Go wherever you want.

Now imagine all that delivered by someone who spent his entire film life trying to walk around the idea of plain old narrative layering. The absolute master of unrelated narratives, of off-screen details. The man who films hands and corn fields when he wants to say love; Who shoots the universe to build one of the most powerful expressions of intimacy, of mind's solitude in the film world. Contrast.

I don't know if this is the best film ever made. It probably is the strongest experience in film world that i got first hand, while it was coming out, new.

What is it? a film inside Sean Penn's head? a Story framed in the universe? part of it? metaphor for it?

I've heard a lot about how this film is a kind of 2001. I don't think so. Kubrick and Malick are 2 different kinds, 2 different approaches, purposes, different process, and different outcomes. Kubrick bends narratives to a point of perfection. Obsessive. Chess leaked all over filmmaking. Malick is the other end of the stick. Pure visual intuition, enhanced by Malick's intellectual background. Just because both directors are little fond of public appearances, and because both this and 2001 feature planets, that doesn't bring the films closer.

In 1963, Cortázar published one of the most important books of the last century, Hopscotch. The title of this comment is related to its original title, in Spanish. I think this film and that book have similar aspirations. Trace your path, you have the chapters, but you have to make an order out of them.

How this is done is in pure mastery of every tool of film conception. Every image counts, each shot was taken care with competence and passion, each frame, each camera move - Lubezki has worked with Malick, Iñarritu, Cuarón. Each collaboration adds a lot to what is being done. He really can read the director's aspirations, and deliver nothing short of mastery. At this time he has entered enough important projects to be considered one of the best cinematographers ever.The editing is world class. Every cut, whether the space virtual shots or the family scenes, matter to the narrative, whatever that is. What takes this to a whole new level is how, in this film, Malick tops his already incredible leverage of music. Editing has always equally present the visual as well as the sound scapes. Watch it, let it get absorbed.

This film demands an incredible lot from you, as viewer. It demands that you be a different person after watching you, that indeed you may change your generic approach to film- watching, or at least that you accommodate in you a new way to watch films. On a basic level it's about Malick's intuitions. On another level, it's about what you get on screen. But ultimately it's all about how you place yourself in the universe proposed.

My opinion: 5/5
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a very rare kind of film
xzcgb23 March 2014
For a concise summary of what to expect from this film I can't do better than direct you to Rooprect's review.

When I saw Tree of Life I think I was fortunate in that I knew absolutely nothing about it beforehand. All I knew was the title, and I'd briefly seen the enigmatic poster for it. But who was in the cast or who directed it, etc, I knew not. So I went in completely open minded.

I also timed the cinema visit so I missed all the ads and trailers - I'm not saying this necessarily improved the viewing, but the nature of the movie is at a polar opposite to all that commercial stuff, and it was good not to be distracted by that crap.

Turned out: It really was a memorable film, and I won't forget that couple of hours in the cinema watching it, it felt like a rare treat. Very enjoyable experience, but a film completely outside the usual Hollywood fodder of an Odeon or Vue.
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Thank god it's over... Definitely not for everybody.
mike-384228 May 2011
I don't expect the majority of viewers to agree with me as it already has a decent rating, but if you searched for people who hated this film then I suspect you will probably dislike it, and I am going to spare you the unfortunate experience I had of going to see it.

Just to state my preferences and for your orientation, I have enjoyed many of the artistic offerings from the IMDb top recommendations, but I prefer my fare more straightforward.

I'll just fly in the face of protocol now and say I had no clue what this film was about. I wanted to leave after 20 minutes but my girlfriend insisted to stay to the end to see what the point was. Other people did leave in the middle of the film and there was a lot of fidgeting going on in the cinema. For the first time in my life I dozed off for a few minutes in a cinema.

There is no plot - only a stream of images following two boys through their childhood and also a flashback to the the creation of the earth. The cinematography was quite impressive but the overall result was oh-so-dull. I am sure there was a point but I just could not be bothered to try to understand it.

Apologies to aficionados. I don't mean to be derogatory about this film. I only want to save some people from sitting through it who would not like it.
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Unbelievably terrible
azelenkovas-18 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
To be honest, I went to watch Midnight in Paris but arrived 10 minutes late, so I went to see The Tree of Life. To be honest again, I don't like Terrence Malick movies that much. However, I convinced myself to sit through it until the end no matter what. It was horrible. I mean, no matter how abstract a movie is, there must be something the viewer can cling to, something the viewer cares about. This movie has nothing like that. The funny thing is, the set-up is fairly quick: in 10 minutes you know what the deal is. Sean Penn is a middle-aged man reflecting on the meaning of life and reminiscing on his somewhat estranged relationship with his father (Brad Pitt) and the loss of his brother in the Vietnam war. After those 10 minutes, nothing that happens in the movie changes that. There's just no development, it s a bunch of short cuts (honestly, the longest cut might be 10 seconds long) showing the family life in the 1950s (very much like home movies) mixed with images of space, Earth in its beginnings, dinosaurs (I'm not kidding) etc. It beggars belief that the crummy hacks out there calling themselves critics say this movie is a "masterpiece" and draws comparison with Kubrick's 2001. Is it because of the slow pace and special effects? Kubrick used those for a reason: to tell a story, to help advance the plot and create a sense of expectation and/or suspense. The Tree of Life is nothing like that, because there's simply no plot. You don't know who to root for or sympathize with. There's no hero, no challenge, no arc. It's just a 2 1/2 hour collage of short scenes. I saw several people leaving the room after just 15 minutes of projection; others kept checking their watches every few minutes (myself included.) It's a pity really, because the performances are quite good, particularly the kids in the 1950s sequence and Brad Pitt as the stern father discharging his career frustrations on the wife and kids. Sean Penn is there too, but he's useless: the director gives him nothing to do, so he just makes ugly faces at the camera as if he's suffering from terrible heartburn. In short: save your money.
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Avoid this crap
Pekman4 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most pretentious pieces of pseudo-intellectual garbage I have ever seen. The photography is great, however that is not what a film is about. The whole film turns around a guy and his relation with is father and the burden of his brother's death. really simple story, with no need for mental masturbation over two and one half hours. I'm willing to bet that in the near future no one will ever remember this film. This film gathered another award: my life's greatest cinematic disappointment. Cannes' boys are lowering their standards, I think. Instead of this i suggest you guys rent "the fountain" because it has far better photography and a much, much nicer story. Here's the link:
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A matchless and immensely complex vision of childhood
Balthazar-516 May 2011
The first thing to say about 'The Tree of Life' is that it is ESSENTIAL VIEWING for anyone who believes that the cinema is a great art, and an early front-runner for 'Film of the Decade'. I first heard about this project in the early 80s when the film world was awash with rumours that Malick had a project that was 'Cosmic, too cosmic even for Hollywood' (John Sayles). And, being a number one fan of Malick's magical realism, I have been metaphorically holding my breath ever since.

Normally, in describing a film one says this is the story of... da da da da. But this film is NOT a story in any but the crudest sense of the word. It is an impression... an impression of a childhood - perhaps Malick's own childhood, which becomes, through Malick's poetry, an impression of childhood itself... of being tactile, of feeling the love of one's parents, of experiencing the arrival of a sibling, of learning to walk... of a thousand things that we take for granted, but are wonderful and shape us more than we can imagine. It is by far the most brilliant evocation of rural childhood that, as far as I can remember, the cinema has ever given us.

This is a film of gesture and movement, of happiness and insecurity, of learning to love and learning to fear. It is unlike any commercial film I have ever seen.... it is as if Stan Brakhage had been given a $100 million budget. The trouble is that Malick may have been too uncompromising. Many, perhaps, sadly, most, of the film-going public, in my experience, find abstraction in films difficult. This is the most abstract film most of them will probably ever see... but it's wonderful and moving and visually stunning. So the question is will they stick with it. With immense sadness, I have to say that I have my doubts.

The much vaunted 'history of the universe' sequence is stunning and is like a poetic editing of all of the most stunning images from science documentaries. It adds even more gravitas to a film that is as philosophically weighty as it is visually impressive. Douglas Trumbull was a special effects consultant and many might immediately think of comparing this sequence with the 'Stargate' climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film's philosophical/metaphysical weight rests, to some large extent on its deeply ingrained spirituality. Of course, this aspect has been there from the beginning with Malick, but here it is much more up-front. The film charts the paths of a family of characters. In the mother's opening line of dialogue she recounts how 'The nuns told us that there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace.' In the film, the characters show how much the difference between these two paths influences the personalities of the characters and the lives that they lead.

Because of this, it has a profound religious sense but without trace of piety or sentimentality. And if, like me, religion is not your thing, don't worry, the film's wonders do not require belief to reveal themselves.

There remains to be said a few words on Malick's stylistic approach. All of his films are incredibly visually rich, 'The Tree of Life' is no exception. But more important even than this is that large sections of 'The Tree of Life' are made in the magical style that he monumentalised in the two 'abstract' sections of 'The New World' - the love affair between Capt Smith & Pocahontas and the amazing final 20 minutes of the film covering her death. It is this fusion of magnificent meaningful imagery and musical montage that lifts this work to levels barely conceived of by most filmmakers.

'The Tree of Life', for all its wonders, is certainly not perfect as it seems again that Malick's dislike for dialogue has become a thorn in his side, as it was for 'Days of Heaven' and we get some embarrassing pauses as characters wordlessly confront one another or stare meaningfully into the void. It is not the matchless masterpiece to challenge 'Citizen Kane' that I was secretly hoping for, but it is wondrous and moving and unforgettable, a staggering piece of cinema that gives the impression of being immensely more meaningful than it appears at first sight... one just needs to put all of the pieces together... not in the narrative sense, for there is barely any narrative, but connecting up Malick's, 'universal' vision with the images of childhood that he presents. An example here is the confrontation between the two dinosaurs that has a resonance with the relationship between young Jack and his father.

All in all, this is one of those films, where it is more important to let one's psyche experience the incredible richness of the film's emotions, than to try to understand it intellectually - at first viewing, at any rate! (And I am sure that Malick would concur about the experience versus understanding conundrum.)

Finally... it is a very, very good idea to watch 'The New World' immediately before seeing 'The Tree of Life' - on DVD or VOD (if it is not being shown locally by some insightful cinema) because, stylistically, it puts you in the 'right groove' to appreciate Malick's cinematic expression... perhaps THE wonder of modern cinema.
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Nature and Grace
ferguson-69 June 2011
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.
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The Essence of life
odevoted20 May 2011
First of all, for those who have not yet read reviews, let me start by saying that this is not your "Brad Pitt/Sean Penn" labeled blockbuster.

Also, I would like to add that, if you really want to take in as much as possible (trust me there is a lot to take in), then you should go see this movie, relaxed, not tired, and in a receiving state of consciousness (I watched it last night at 2200hrs, after a very very long difficult day) and I am seriously considering re-watching it on a Saturday night...

It is practically impossible to summarize this film, in a few words, but what this film does to you, mostly I think, is take you back to your childhood days, and bring back, re-ignite all these long lost first moments/feelings/discoveries/guilts. Do you remember the first time you had a fight with your parents? What crossed your mind? what did you feel?.....apply this to all the first times and you might get something that feels like this film.

This film blends all the above with imaginary scenes from the creation of the cosmos, how all is connected, how did we get here? why? what did God really have to do with this? or is God in other words Love?

You have to see for yourself, and I believe each and every one of us will have his own different experience which is exactly what real Art is.

Bravo, to the Director, Producers and Cast.
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On Profundity
Michael_Lefman15 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Just going to say a few of the regular things before I get into it. Yes, this is not your tradition blockbuster. A lot of people who normally wouldn't see this movie did because of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It's a non-traditional narrative. Terrifying, I know.

I want to argue against a few accusations being thrown at Terry and this film.

One common one is that this is a self-centered and pretentious film. As previously mentioned, this is not a box office thriller. Although I cannot speak to the intentions of Mr. Malick, I can say with some confidence that the main goal of this movie is not entertainment. In fact, this movie has no main goal. Some pieces of art are made for the sake of the artist, not the audience. In this case, we're lucky that the creator is a respected intellectual who has the ability to share his pieces with a large audience.

This piece is not pseudo-intellectual wankery, as some have submitted. I don't want to come off as a total dick, but I could understand how this movie might be intimidating. Let me try my hand to explain what Terry was going for here. And like I said, I may be totally wrong.

We have what seem like two separate sections of film. One, the depiction of the birth of cosmic bodies and the growth of the earth including the distinction of the dinosaurs and all that. Obviously its all gorgeous. I don't see a lot of people bashing the cinematography thank god.

The second section is the one in which we see the loss of innocence of the boy and Sean Penn's character reaction to it. I'll also include what some people are calling the "heaven" scene in this section, although I would not label that scene as such. I'll get to that later. With some minimal research on the director (which I'm sure he'd hate) one can find out that these domestic scenes are rather autobiographical. Terrence really did have a very talented guitar-playing brother (who studied under Segovia) and broke from the stress.

So what do these two sections have to do with one another? While not necessary for their comprehension it should be noted the director taught philosophy at MIT and translated Heidegger's "Essence of Reason," and purportedly visited the guy in the woods before he died. This may impress you, it may not. It impresses me very much.

So here's where I tackle profundity. Many people today look at films and novels as things to be puzzled out. A moral is there to be discovered and taken and learned. This movie is not like that!

Malick is taking his life and putting it side by side with the grand, cosmic, ineffable mechanisms of the universe. If there is a "purpose" of this movie for the audience, it is thus: what meaning can my life have against all things and all time? And not just himself, but the jellyfish, and the dinosaurs people find so silly. He has no answer. He is basking in the wonder of it all. This is his ode to existence. There's no hidden meaning to it. He just wants to say: look! Look first at the beauty and then look at your own life.

So I guess that's it.
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One of the most pointless movies I've ever seen
nema_jhurry13 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
After seeing this movie, I sincerely cannot comprehend all the hype and the excellent reviews that it has attracted. The only way I can explain such good reviews is that whoever wrote them have either been generously paid to do so or were high on dope while doing so. This was the first time ever I have felt so angry about wasting my time and money watching a bad movie. The only reason the movie may have attracted so much attention is the fact that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn were acting in it. However, I felt that their talents were completely wasted on one of the most pointless and most boring movies I've ever seen.

Usually, I can sit through a bad movie, but this one bored me immensely within the first 10 min. I still do not understand what the director was trying to portray with the shots of volcanoes, planets, dinosaurs (terrible animation versions) and jellyfish (??). Half of those shots appeared to be borrowed from the Planet Earth series, except portrayed in an incomprehensible and boring manner. There was not a single instance that kept my attention and interest. I was especially irritated by the fact that the movie had a very strong religious streak, which the "good" reviews did not mention. The entire movie was a bunch of disconnected, pointless scenes thrown together, and the ending was especially annoying, with everybody in the family ending up in 'heaven'. I would compare the movie to those useless pieces of contemporary art that depict a monochromatic shape in the middle of a canvas, and attempt to convince us that there is some deeper bullshit meaning to it. I am particularly angry at all the reviewers that rated this movie so well. This movie is a total rip-off!
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zadkine19 May 2011
Unlike a novel the stories in this movie do not unfold, revelation following revelation, culminating in a definable message or theme. There is no moral, no hero, no emotional epiphanies. What it presents is an extraordinarily haunting vision of childhood, how the things we love the most are as fragile as morning dew yet immensely powerful. The things that connect us, separate us, and bewilder us - again and again and again throughout our lives. The saddest, most insightful, most poignant portrayal of a family I have ever seen. Genius. How can this film achieve commercial success? it seems impossible. How did a film so ambitious get made when everything that makes money today is everything this film isn't? Bravo to the producers, bravo to the early critics who are stepping up and speaking out for this deeply moving masterpiece.
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The Tree Of Life Is A Miracle
littlemartinarocena30 June 2011
The film is already part of my subconscious. The pungent focus on a microscopic nucleus is as powerful as it is recognizable. The film renewed my love for film in one single viewing. It s a profoundly religious experience without being "fundamentalist" in any way. An artist's view made of distant memories who live in a permanent present. Brad Pitt is astonishing. That Irish-American, Catholic father from the 1950's is an X ray into something we've never seen, not on film that is. He arrives to levels of unimaginable clarity with very few words. It reminded of my father talking about his own father. I wept like a child. Jessica Chastain is also superb and the children, quite extraordinary. I can't wait to see it again.
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Who Knows?
Schlobotnick7 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Is this a movie about a hard-working 1950's father who, ground down by the greed of the rich and the machinations of the patent court, and mooning over having to give up a promising musical career as a young man, takes out his frustrations on his rebellious eldest son? And those hundreds of hammerhead sharks, are they supposed to represent the greedy rich?


Or, is this a movie about a lovely, loving, and beloved mother who, mourning over the loss of her eldest (or is it 2nd eldest?) son, questions the benevolence and even the existence of God until, with the aid of two beauteous angelic sylphs, she finally gives up her son to God? And what's with all those swirly astronomical scenes, billowing explosive clouds of gas, and pulsing glowing.... things? Are they supposed to represent her internal struggles with God?


Or, is it a movie about a boy on the cusp of sexual maturity, confused about the feelings evoked by fleeting glimpses of scantily clad neighborhood women in the heat of the summer, goaded by his neighborhood buddies into acts of cruelty and theft, resentful over the way in which his father treats his mother, his brothers, and himself, resentful of the pressure of guilt and remonstrance from his angelic mother, grows up to be, um, either dead or Sean Penn?


And why did that fleet carnivorous dinosaur, with his paw on the head of the abandoned baby herbivore, decide to saunter away, leaving his putative prey lying there still alive? Wasn't he hungry?


And about that gigantic, beached, prehistoric sea monster with the deep bloody gash in his side --- was that his head at the end of a huge neck twisting around to view the damage? Or was that the head of some other gigantic prehistoric beast who happened to be wandering by?


And what were all those slowly twisting spirally thingies? Were they spirochetes?

And was that the birth and death of the universe?

And why did they plant that tree? To memorialize the person who had crashed his bike and was flopping in death throes on the grass?


And was that the Horsehead Nebula? YES IT WAS!
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I LOVED this film
natalierosen7 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
We rented this film from HBO last week and STILL have not erased it because we love it so much. When so many films are cookie-cutter adaptations of ingredients that work to make oodles of bucks this film was unique and took chances most do not. Brad Pitt, I believe, is one of our country's national treasures. His excellence in film is matched by his excellence in life.

The film grapples with the eternal questions of man. I do not know if The Tree of Life solves what is for me unsolvable but at least it makes an attempt at differentiating the science surrounding the facts we know about the etiology of the earth with the yearning of man to still ask the eternal why of his suffering.

It is about the Biblical Book of Job in that it is about suffering in the face of the perfect creation of earth. It is about the majesty of the earth's construct and the less than perfect man within it. The cinematography is gorgeous and the sound magnificent using many classical works to emphasize the grandeur of life that simply is.

I loved the complexity of the relationships and the ambivalence of the mother toward the father, the grief they both endure and how they endure it. Pitt's relationship with his sons was profound, angry, loving, loathing and deep.

We keep playing and replying this film to see, hear, and watch the beauty of the anthropological formation of earth and those in it who crave answers to their suffering juxtaposed against the beauty that is existence. We are a division between earth's scientific creations and within it the etiology of man with his frailties.

One scene depicting early earth and the age of dinosaurs showed one dinosaur's victory over another. It keeps its talons on the subjugated wondering, it seems, whether to kill it or not. It does not. Was this some nascent element, albeit minuscule, of altruism compelling the victorious dinosaur not to eat his spoils as he, unexpectedly, lifts up his talons off the defeated one and walks away? Who knows? One can only speculate.

Who are we, where did we come from and most importantly why? We live with the grandeur of the earth's beauty and alternatively the suffering ugliness it sometimes visits upon us. We live in its uncomfortable harmony as the two are inexorably and inextricably linked yet a separate part of man's existence. This film attempts to reflect on the eternal questions that have plagued human existence since the beginning and probably will never be sufficiently answered even at the end of it all.
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a masterpiece - and easy to understand
Iwould19 May 2011
I saw The Tree Of Life last night. Just like Sean Penn, who spends the day in the office remembering about his brothers and family, the most urgent thing I feel I have to do this morning is to write about the movie. I haven't be so much impressed by a story, a song or a a film from a very long time.

It should go without saying, but let me tell you that this is not a film you should see if you just want to stop thinking about your life for a couple of hours. This should be kind of automatic, i know: but it's worth mentioning, as it would be really a pity to see flourishing such comments or opinions like "i was expecting something else" or "it's very slow paced" or "i didn't really understand that part of the story". Go watch this movie if you want (or: if you NEED) to think about yourself and your life and your story and your future MORE than you usually do, not less. Go watch this movie if you want to find a companion voice wondering together with you about what kind of relationship can be found between our personal stories and the story of the universe, between the quickness of a lizard running across a summer cornfield in Texas and the infinite spaces dividing the countless stars of the universe, between the tenderness of the love that you felt for your parents as a child and the plain fact that in order to grow up, to reproduce that love, you had to leave that child and that love behind you. The voice will help you to realize that the missing links are actually there, in front of your eyes; that in order to see them, your eyes must be open; and that regaining the innocence that seemed lost forever is the key, and the result, of understanding and accepting the presence of those links, opening your eyes.

Tree of Life is not a lecture, it's not a sermon: it's an honest flow of memories, meshed with inventions and dreams. It's a masterpiece. I don't feel like making technical remarks here, with this lone exception: everybody will talk about the magnificence of the images of the universe, the ones about the story of the world. I was struck, instead, by the way children were depicted in this movie: the camera is always at the same level of their eyes and after a while you really feel a kid yourself, a friend of them, a member of the pack, playing with them, one of them, again.

Strongly suggested to anybody, as long as you are looking for relax through relief, not relief through relax. But, in the end, The Tree Of Life it's a work easy to understand for anybody who's in the proper mindset - and yes, "everybody" includes even your children: in the worst case they will sleep through it, but hopefully they will stay awake, as they will feel perfectly comfortable with the family stories (since they are told with an honesty they will recognize as very close to their own). Eventually, maybe, they will wonder together with you about the meaning and the magnificence of the images retelling the story of the universe and time. Otherwise, as I said, they will sleep - but peacefully.
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Epic and Exasperating?
Milo_Milosovic23 March 2014
Where to even begin with The Tree of Life? Any release from Terence Malick is highly anticipated because, let's face it, "prolific" is not exactly his middle-name. Malick's output of 5 Films in the best part of thirty years makes Stanley Kubrick look like a Roger Corman protégé. Ostensibly, The Tree of Life is the story of a young family growing up in 1950′s Texas. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are the parents of three boys living the suburban life. Whilst, Sean Penn plays the grown up older son reminiscing over these times. Here is where any attempt to continue with a plot synopsis collapses under the weight of the films impressionistic non-linear structure.

The Tree of life is a fundamentally polarising experience of the highest order. There will be those who view it as a mess. A sentimental, art-farty shambles. A two hour long perfume commercial stuffed with "meaningful" abstract shots and scenes. A melange of whispered preposterous platitudes and pretentious, "meaning of life" and infuriatingly glib sentimentality. They'll think it's rambling, mawkish, misjudged, ill-disciplined, lacking any narrative cohesion and packed with the kind of heavy handed-symbolism best left to a 6th form Emo's poetry. They'll think it's the work of a director who's lost the plot up his own arse and submitted a self-indulgent soufflé of a film that'll stretch their patience to breaking point. They will hate it. And, they'll have a point.

There will be others though who view The Tree of Life as an elegiac meditation on memory and grief. They'll think it's a lyrical and visual poem. They'll see discussions of familial remembrance, the friction between father and son, the birth of morality, the Universe and universal truths. They'll see a beautifully meandering and melancholic ode that eschews traditional narrative for a sumptuous visual lyricism that washes over them. They'll be prepared to lie-back and let it take them to more melancholic and meditative shores. They will love it. And, they'll have a point.

Guess, which side I fell on.
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Emptying out, in search of the true face
chaos-rampant8 July 2011
With Malick I usually come away with few things, simple wonderings about meaning and the desire to transcend. But there is something here worth talking about, a wondering that I believe matters. It is about the great lie upon which we have placed all our hopes and has fed us only suffering. It includes god but goes beyond, way beyond.

Those of us in the West trace it back to Descartes, the foundation of what we call our Enlightenment. The title of the 1641 book where he tells us that we are because we think translates as "Meditations touching the first philosophy in which the existence of God and the distinction between the body and soul are demonstrated". Imagine the yawning breach with the natural world that gives us to itself at birth; we posit that we are because we think, not because we simply are! This alone reveals it; a distinction between body and soul (and how the concept of God is born from it, in a mind that regards itself as separate from its vessel), that has produced a culture that considers everything a commodity, that revolves around pleasing the needs of one or the other. And about us perceiving things as what we are in need of and by our ideas of them.

The imaginary conundrum of duality goes way back, it's what the film starts with. A distinction between the way of nature and the way of grace, again body and soul. Implying there is no grace in the first and that a way of grace cannot be found in what we readily observe around us, in how the world simply presents itself to us (which includes our body and what sensations appear in it - either considered impure or to satiate), but needs to be separately thought by us. The nuns told us; about a world devised from nothing in the creator's own good time, and us separately placed in it, even created in a separate day from the rest of creation, to atone for an original sin.

This is the worldview we are born into. A world itself as punishment, which we are called to subdue to our satisfaction. Modern science has done little to improve it, only now we explain away in order to subdue and have replaced one creation myth with another.

Now both ways created by Malick, so that we can see where the lie begins. The creation of creation, from the Bing Bang onwards, rendered with overblown Wagnerian crescendos like what Kubrick did 40 years ago. Malick shows us here that mercy exists among the predators. And then us separately born into creation. The first words uttered by the infant are "it's mine", the first words uttered by the father a lesson to his young son about the imaginary line that separates his garden from the neighbor's and never to cross it.

In the second half of the film we get a few codas on what destructive illusions have evolved from these notions. How we should strive to obtain and subdue until satisfied, and to admit otherwise is weakness. And how the pursuit never satisfies the hunger, but only leads us to imagine a lacking in what we already have. And how we desperately cling to things, things felt as either ours or to be made ours, even as we know that they will come to pass.

But at the absence of the fatherly authority, we see how the kids become an aimless mob. And how the violence trickled inside the kid, eventually poisons and erupts.

Over the course of all this, we get Malick's tricly soliloquy that has always been the easiest to attack. "Was I false to you?", "forgive us", "where have you gone?". It's not my favourite aspect of his work, but I truly believe he's a feather-brained bard and deeply means it.

The rest is in the finale. It's not so much about closure that restores balance, but a process of emptying out and letting go of what has poisoned the soul. So that upon transcending the illusions of duality, remains only the unbound sentience of the world giving itself back to us.

Pitt is terrific in this, in ways he hasn't been before (compare to Ben Button that strived for a similar somber effect). But what truly stands out is the boy and the look of grief piling inside.

Malick tells us about his parents fighting inside of him, this is the great war in nature. Who of the two to become, without betraying the other? The one who loved harshly because he wanted his kids to have, or the one who loved tenderly but did nothing to alleviate the suffering in her own home.

So these are the two natures as falsely taught to us by the 'nuns', one as cautionary warning, the other to aspire to. The father as embodiment of the "nature that only wants to please itself", but that nature is only our false notion of a self, an ego that expects to be pleased. A tree doesn't please itself when it's watered, it takes only what it must to grow into what it has potential to be.

And the mother's way of grace that stoically accepts, also false because it accepts without complaint the injury of the innocent. The mother allows by her passive stance both her children and her husband to remain unhappy. So, who to be eventually, as grown men who have lived so long with grieves that are not ours?

Zen Buddhism hints at this and goes beyond, with its koan of koans (the enigmatic phrase that doesn't have an apparent answer yet demands one by the initiate, meant to tie his tongues in silent meditation); Zen Master Huìnéng asks, "Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born".

Something to meditate upon.
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Oh dear...
ElyssaWinn11 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This film was awful. Terrible. A waste of time.

I find it ridiculous that there are so many posts defending this film. It seems there are so many people out there who are fully ready to take in pointless stories and label them "deep" (by which they mean "made no sense whatsoever, which must mean its beyond our grasp")

I can forgive some films that choose form over content but not this. Where it isn't ripping off shots from documentaries like "Home" (I/2009) and "Planet Earth" and concepts from classics such as "2001", it is trying desperately to convey some sort of painful story with minimal basic dialogue and endless monologues of pointless drivel. Yes, parts of the cinematography were beautiful, the acting (especially from such young boys) was impressive, yet there was not one SINGLE original idea when it came to the script. There was absolutely no motivation for the viewer to stay glued to the screen. It was more a case of:, "Ooh, this woman is grieving for her dead son, but it doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things cos' there were also once dinosaurs roaming the Earth and there are big explosions's a shot of orange figure all this out since I couldn't be bothered." Really deep stuff... I actually paid money to see this. Argh.

And also - 8.0 out of 10? That's weird, that's seriously weird.
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One of the biggest cinematic wastes of time ever
janeweed71720 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I truly don't understand how so many reviewers found meaning to this lengthy, boring, pointless film. "We've been stepping on each other's necks since we were dinosaurs." Big deal! Large swaths of this movie are like watching a stranger's home movies. This is about a family who can't get past their own pain, whether it's large or small. It suggests that there really is no meaning to our suffering though we think there is. But I don't need a 2.5 hour movie with pretensions of grandeur to tell me this. Sean Penn stepping through a door frame in the desert. Gee, that's deep. Spend time with your actual family rather than watch this film.
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Movie? Maybe. Art? Maybe. Pretentious? Absolutely.
goldwriting6 June 2011
Many movies have gone down in history as pushing the envelope, changing the way critics and audiences perceive movie making as a whole. Citizen Kane, Psycho and A Clockwork Orange are only a few to raise the bar on how effective a film can be on a viewer. Sometimes those filmmakers go down in history as visionaries, decorated time and again by journalists, historians and movie fans alike, but pushing the envelope can also bring about the opposite reaction. Every now what comes along is something that few understand and even fewer care to try. For the reclusive director, Terrence Malick, he doesn't seem to care which category he falls in and maybe that's the best way to play it. He makes his movies as a personal statement and they represent exactly what he wants to say, never mind what people want to hear. Lofty and admirable as that outlook may be, it can make for an incredibly risky movie-going experience. There are already heated words being tossed all over blogs and movie sites everywhere, so here's my two cents in the debate.

The Tree of Life is a visual and ethereal poem about loss, despair, God and the search for faith and reconciliation.

(I usually write much more about the basic plot of the movie for the review, but honestly, there wasn't much of a plot or story to speak of.)

From the opening whispers of narration, I knew that we were in for something a little off the beaten path, which in itself is not automatically a bad thing. Challenging the norm should be done on a regular basis, but that comes with its own risks. With only a few precious moments of actual characters to speak of, The Tree of Life launches into a 45 operatic display of the birth of the universe. Within the first few minutes I felt I thoroughly understood the director's point of view, which admittedly may have been wrong, but either way I definitely got what we were witnessing. The main issue here is there was absolutely no need to witness it for 45 minutes. While listening to a tremendously overblown and self-indulgent score, nearly a dozen people walked out of the theater in that opening sequence. After twenty-to- thirty minutes of something more akin to a Discovery Channel special on the universe, the audience began feeling like there was no point being made and an actual narrative story was nowhere to be found. I've made a promise to myself never to walk out of a movie, but I was dangerously close. I knew Brad Pitt and Sean Penn were cast in this for some reason; I was waiting to find out what that was.

Sadly, there really is no reason. There are a small handful of poignant moments from the various cast members, but they could never separate themselves from the poor cinematic experience or even truly showcase why they were cast. In the end I felt like any actor could have played these parts because each scene was only tangentially connected to the next, a feather-light spiderweb string trying to keep some type of flow or momentum, but it continually snapped under the hot air blown by Malick.

The real debate here is whether or not this even qualifies as a movie (or "film" for the pretentious). Even farther down the philosophical debate is whether or not movies are "art", which this piece clearly strives to be. For me, this would have made a much better impression and found a more receptive audience if it was screened in the MOCA or LACMA or any museum. It felt completely out of context shown in a normal movie theater. Some people will point to this winning the Palme d'Or at the legendary Cannes film festival as proof of its value and credit as a great movie, but I would pleasantly remind those people that it was also roundly booed by half of the audience afterwards, something only reserved for the most detested of films in the festival. The Tree of Life is being hailed by critics everywhere, who mostly can't put into words what it is about or why they liked it, but in turn reviled and railed against by audiences, who walk out by the dozen and request their money back (true story, happened in my screening and in each of the ones attended by friends of mine). If anything this will help remind movie lovers everywhere, don't listen to critics, including me. Make up your own mind, at your own risk. In the end we are all critics, just some are louder than others.

The End of the Page Recommendation: The Tree of Life wilts under the scrutiny of any audience not sitting in a museum or on hallucinogenics.
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Fine photography meets the cheesiest iconography
saladin-828 May 2011
Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," is a pretentious slide show of cosmic post-cards, with a story in the middle. This animated power-point reuses unashamedly the worst clichés of TV commercials (think of a two hours advertisement for a life insurance), and the most lurid scenes of Discovery Channel's documentaries. Malick resorts to an exquisite photography to illustrate embarrassing platitudes, and this experience is particularly unpleasant for the spectator. Malick's attempt is very ambitious, and he should be praised for that. Two movies written in a similar phenomenological vein come to my mind: Kubrick's 2001 and Tarkovski's Zerkalo. The last two movies, however, were balanced and perfectly executed. Alas, Malick's movie is redundant, heavy, sententious, excessive and sometimes even obscene, but not hopeless. For this lack of decorum ultimately depends on the editing, and Malick could drastically improve this movie if he remembered that the force of poetic forms relies on economy of language.
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Modern art, yes. A great film, absolutely not.
ramair3504 June 2011
I love unconventional films. Creativity is rare, and I'm supportive of writing that is extraordinary (but not necessarily "out of the ordinary"). And I have to say that I am a big fan of some films coming from the same director ("Thin Red Line" is a fantastic war movie).

And throw in the fact that I grew up in the Waco, Texas area (setting for the movie) and currently reside in Austin, this movie certainly was on the top of my most anticipated films of the year (if not decade).

But from start to finish it disappointed me. I will not give away anything, but I have to say that it was too similar to the movies that are screened in small rooms in most modern art galleries. I just don't like paying money to sit for over two hours to watch what I consider to be almost pure modern art. But this just was not what I would call a "film" or "movie", any more than I could call a novel filled with random phrases a "book".

If nothing else, seeing this film will give you something to talk about. You may be pretentious enough ... oops, I mean sophisticated enough ... to truly appreciate and enjoy this work. I hope so. But worst case you can have something to gripe about when you are working for a living, wishing you were clever enough to be able to make films like this one instead of having a real job. Enjoy!
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