Tree of Life (11/12/12)

Tree of LifeMovie Two Hundred Sixty

The Tree of Life chronicles the life of a young boy growing up in Texas interspersed with the creation of the universe and the meaning of life.

A family is torn apart after receiving a letter that their son has died. In the present day, Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) calls his father to apologize and reflects on his childhood. The universe is created, life is created and evolves, and an asteroid crashes into Earth. In the 1950s in Waco, Texas, we see the O’Brien family; the mother (Jessica Chastain), the father (Brad Pitt), and three boys, including a young Jack (Hunter McCracken). We see scenes from Jack’s life, including the drowning of his friend and the subsequent funeral and the joy of having their overbearing father leave for business.

Disclaimer – if you haven’t seen The Tree of Life, it is a very polarizing movie. The plot is minimal, there is a lot of esoteric and existential narration and visuals that may seem like they have nothing to do with the movie.

I’ve seen Tree of Life four times and each time I’ve come away with a slightly different experience but I’ve always liked the film. It is an artsy film, there is not a straight line from A to B like most movies and this can be interpreted as a lack of plot or rambling, but this is largely open to how you view movies. If you see movies strictly as entertainment, you may be bored to tears by Tree of Life but if you can appreciate movies as an art form you may “get” Tree of Life a little more. However, that’s not to say there is much to “get”. Tree of Life is writer/director Terrence Malick’s very personal story and you will likely either connect with it or you won’t.

There is not much I wish to say about Tree of Life because it’s a film that could easily be dissected and have short books written about. It is a film you will love or hate; Very few people I have talked to that have seen it fall in the middle. When discussing the film with people that don’t like it, I have a hard time defending it because it’s like defending vanilla ice cream to someone that prefers chocolate. Still, Tree of Life is a movie I would recommend everyone watch at least once to form your own opinions on. If you didn’t like it, I would be curious what your impressions would be after repeat viewings.

I give it 5 dinosaurs out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


59 responses to “Tree of Life (11/12/12)

  1. 😀 I knew the grade would either be a 5 or a 1, right? No one sees this movie and is like…. its alright. I thought it was Ok…. LOL

    I havent watched it since I first got the blu, I watched it twice the week I got it, but its been awhile now. It’s a very very beuatiful, thought provoking, challenging film. I love this one. glad you do too!

  2. I loved this film. I’m really glad you liked it. The slow hypnotic pacing, minimal dialogue and vivid imagery really demands your attention. Malick’s direction is very similar to Refn.

  3. I’ve watched this a few times since I saw it early in the year and loved it (I picked it as the best movie of 2011). It’s quickly become one of my favorite films and it’s really amazing to see Malick’s imagery. Nice review.

    • That seems to be one of the most common complaints I read about the film, but on a large scale they are connected. To me, it’s a film about the importance of our lives even though they are microscopic and insignificant on a larger scale.

  4. Yeah, the dinosaurs were a bit much, but Malick’s vision and prowess is unlike any other and I just could not take my eyes off of this flick once it all got started. Good review Andy.

  5. I saw this at the cinema but had read nothing about it and had no idea what it was about. I guess I was expecting a drama so I had a hard time with it to be honest. If I had gone in knowing what to expect, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. It’s a powerful film with some strong messages, I just wish I had been in the mood for it.

    • You really should, it’s a film that needs to just be seen. No amount of writing could possibly do it justice and people’s takeaways are literally on both sides of the spectrum. I’d be very curious to see what you think about it.

  6. Love, love, love Tree of Life. A mesmerizing experience. The cinematography and visual effects are superb. Brad got an Oscar nod for Moneyball but this was the superior performance. Jessica Chastain was great too, I love her.

  7. Andy,
    Huge fan of Terrence Malick, Days of Heaven being my favourite of his. I have always enjoyed his contemplative style, The Thin Red Line being one of the most sincere and touching war movies I have seen. Tree of Life is the second time I have not connected with one of Malick’s movies (The New World being the first one). I think it is indeed a return to form. But to me, there are more misses than hits: the dinosaur portion, the last few minutes of the movies, when masks and memorabilia sink in the ocean… To me, the metaphors were so clumsy, and obvious, to a point that I got irritated when I was watching, and a tad uncomfortable. There are amazing parts, as usual – inner monologues of the characters, and the Zbigniew Preisner’ Lacrimosa during the “creation” sequences. But overall, to me, a disappointment.
    Le Clown

    • Le Clown – I understand exactly what you mean, your wife shared similar sentiments about the film on Twitter. Some of the ham-fisted approach to those artsy shots didn’t bother me the first few times around but they did get to me a bit more this past time. It’s one of the reasons I would have a hard time defending this movie to someone that didn’t care for it – I simply don’t understand the intention behind it.
      I’m hoping Malick’s upcoming films have a bit more mainstream appeal to get more folks interested in his films.

  8. I was dying to see this movie, having been a fan of Malick’s for many years (Badlands remains my favorite; Days of Heaven is my second). My friends who saw it ahead of me, were eagerly waiting to talk with me about it, as they loved it. And when I finally did watch it, I nodded and agreed that it was a superbly well-crafted and memorable experience. But it was an experience I have little interest in revisiting, as I’ve enjoyed stories about fathers and sons far more elsewhere. I do like the film, however, and I’m glad that it continues to be embraced as the work of art that it is by many whose opinions I respect. It’s simply that, like many spiritual beliefs, the connections don’t gel. Feel free to disagree. I have yet to hear a convincing commentary on how it does, and I remain open to being persuaded to think otherwise (bear in mind that I do enjoy surrealism and appreciate abstract art).

    • I think you make a very valid point about it being like spiritual beliefs and that’s partly why I don’t think I could persuade or defend the film. Since the film is so personal if it doesn’t click with you it may not ever click with you, even if you do appreciate it on a technical level. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, we’re all made up of different experiences.

  9. Wow, I’m someone who watched this once and had very mixed feelings about it. One thing I know for sure though is that I never would want to rewatch it….

  10. This was in my top three of 2011, number 2 I think. It is a movie I see in my minds eye everyday. It is just so true in concept and conviction of life. Check out my review. Excellent essay you did here.

  11. I guess I’m in the minority who thinks “Tree of Life” is neither genius nor garbage. I think it’s a very well made meditation, but not really a “film” in the sense that we normally think of it. It’s as if the ending of “2001” was spread over an entire movie interspersed with a coming-of-age story that had nothing to do with the esoteric visuals. I enjoyed the movie, but I’m not sure if I’d watch it again. It’s definitely not for everyone.

    • The two main “stories” may not directly tie to each other, but I think the intention was to show large scale creation and growth and the same on a very small scale. Maybe that was not the intent, but that’s how I interpret it. You’re right, though – definitely not for everyone.

      • Yep, I believe that was the intent as well. This is a large-scale “experimental” film that was more about the message than the story. The visuals were amazing (even during the character-oriented portions) and everything builds to a larger idea. Most films are plot driven rather than theme-driven, but that doesn’t make this approach any less valid. It seems that most people who liked the film understood what it was trying to do and grasped that concept whole-hardheartedly while those who didn’t like it just didn’t get it.

  12. Wow, lot of love for the film here.
    As someone who loathed the movie I feel I need to defend my viewpoint. It’s certainly not that ‘I don’t get it’. That’s a bit much.

    I get what he aspired to do. My problem is that it doesn’t work. The family’s story may have been vaguely interesting but it is certainly not involving or moving in any way. Sean Penn even went on record to say that it lacked ’emotional resonance’. Also, while the film looked good, the whispered voiceover was incredibly alienating and grated almost as much as Malick’s fetish for floaty dresses and Chastain’s feet. As for the long creationist montage… sigh… still feel it was pretentious and manipulatively put together by a director imposing his ego on an unsuspecting audience bored rigid by being made to sit through what seemed like Malick’s entire childhood memories.

  13. I want to write an essay about this film w/ attention to trees and its yogic theory of continuity across space and time. What did you make of the dinosaur scene? Lots of people read into what transpires between the two creatures…animals showing compassion?

  14. Pingback: My November Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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