The Tree of Life (2011)

Drama, Fantasy
Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken
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's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some, but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat.
  • Fox Searchlight Company:
  • PG-13 Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 17 May 2011 Released:
  • 11 Oct 2011 DVD Release:
  • $13.3M Box office:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

Unbelievably terrible1/10
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.
Thank god it's over... Definitely not for everybody.1/10
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.
A matchless and immensely complex vision of childhood10/10
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.
Avoid this crap1/10
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: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0414993/
Sheesh... skip all the other reviews. Just read this.5/10
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.