The Tree of Life (2011)

Beats me what this is even about, but damn does it look pretty!

Growing up in the Midwest with two brothers, Jack has always been torn between his mother (Jessica Chastain)’s guidance to approach everything he encounters with an open heart and his father (Brad Pitt)’s advice to look after his own interests. Now, Jack (played in an older age by Sean Penn) must find a way to regain purpose and perspective.

That synopsis there is sort of what I think this flick is about because within the first 240 minutes we get the creation of the universe, jelly fishes swimming all over the ocean, and dinosaurs. Yes, you heard me right, I said dinosaurs but after that then it gets normal.

Going into this flick, knowing that it was Terrence Malick not only directing but writing as well, I was going in expecting two things: 1. a good story and 2. beautiful visuals. For numero uno, I kind of got that but for number two, I definitely got that.

After seeing only two films from Malick so far (‘The Thin Red Line’, ‘The New World’) I knew that this was going to be just another one of his flicks that just wreaks in beauty with just about every shot, and he did not let me down. Every single shot here is just another piece of beauty that gets added to the collection of all of his other flicks and even with the smallest amount of light in one shot, you can still feel like you haven’t seen the sun like this quite before. The thing with a lot of these shots though, is that you seen realize that Malick is deliberately taking certain shots to put us all in the mind of Jack as a young boy and we see what he sees, feels what he feels, and at least try to understand what he’s trying to understand. It also helps that Malick shot on some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in quite some time and I honestly want to know just where he found caves that look like the ones he was filming here. No matter what though, Malick is perfect when it comes to creating beautiful visuals for a flick and even when it comes to him getting towards using CGI, it almost looks perfectly real. Hell, a lot more real than most of these big-budget action block-busters that come out every year. That’s a true testament to the directing style of Terrence Malick.

When it comes to the story, well, let’s just say things are a little bit weird. As I’ve already mentioned before, the first 40 minutes are totally confusing as we see this present-day story that goes back to the past, and then goes all the way back to the creation of the universe filled with all sorts of random life-forms. It was a little confusing at first but still stunning to watch none the less however when the actual story about this young boy and his family came in, that’s when the film really did wonders.

The whole story about this little kid and how he sees the world through two different life-styles actually made me not only feel a lot for his story but my own as well. Take it for granted though, I wasn’t born in the 50’s and my parents are both kind of the same in terms of parenting, which isn’t a bad thing in any way because come on, they let me watch R-rated movies when I wasn’t even legally allowed to. Just the way that all of these kids go about their days kicking the can down the street, chasing their mom around the house with a lizard, breaking windows to be deemed “cool” by others, and so so many other things that remind me of myself when I was a lot younger and didn’t have much to do in my life other than go outside and play with my buds. It was great to see a film just tell a story about kid growing up through the kid himself with all of his angst, curiosity, confusion, anger, but most of all, happiness.

Where I think this film hits its biggest problem is that I think its structure could have definitely been used a lot more simpler than Malick actually gave us. I have to give props to Malick for this structure because after awhile, you start to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and everything starts to make sense, but I think if he had started from the creation of the universe thing to the childhood of Jack to the adulthood of Jack, it probably would have made a lot more sense and come off as more enjoyable that way. There is also a bunch of talk about God and faith that didn’t really do much for me and may seem a bit too far-fetched when it comes to connecting two different stories together, but it didn’t really bother me all that much considering I was just watching beauty right in front of my eyes.

Even though the film sort of treats the characters as second-nature here, the performances are all still pretty good. Brad Pitt is a fine fit as Jack’s tense and strict but loving father that truly shows how Pitt can command any scene even if the guy he’s playing is a bit of a dick, but from what I hear, all fathers in the 50’s were apparently like this. Jessica Chastain is a joy to watch as the fun-loving, sweet, and tender soul that is Jack’s mom, and also a lot of love to Hunter McCracken who is just about perfect in this film as young Jack, considering how much he has to go through and none of it ever seems fake or put-on. Hopefully this kid has a lot of work in the near future. The weakest part of this cast as well as this flick is probably Sean Penn as older Jack who isn’t really given much to do in the first place other than walk around, mope, and wear a very nice suit barely even muttering a word.

Consensus: Though it’s not for everybody, The Tree of Life is a beautiful and gorgeous flick done by Terrence Malick who not only gives us wonderful visuals to gaze at, but also a story to follow and relate to (not talking about the dinosaurs) and performances to watch and admire (minus Sean Penn).

9/10=Full Price!!


  1. Surely not for everyone. I saw it at the cinema and was glad I did, but wouldn’t recommend it to others as I think it takes a specific type of moviefan to appreciate it. I have mixed feeling about it myself.

  2. It’s such a polarising film. I couldn’t tell any of my friends to go watch it, because I honestly have no idea whether they’d like it or not. It seems to be such a ‘love it or hate it film’. I loved it – didn’t get to see it at the cinema, but on the big TV at home, no one else there, no distractions. It was just beautiful, it moved me to tears 🙂

    • I saw it the same way and it really was just a beautiful film that only certain types of people will love, while others, will just hate. Thanks Ruth!

  3. Wow. I was surprised to see such a high score after reading the review… it didnt seem as though you enjoyed it.

    I loved the film. I think its a meditation on our relationship with God, and the nature of life.

    Malick takes a bold chance by tossing typical movie conventions like plot and dialogue right out the window. LOL. But its experimental, unique. Like EE Cummings did with poetry, Malick does with movies.

    A great flick, but it’s going to fail to connect with 95% of the people who view it, and you have to consider that in a final grade. 9/10 sounds spot on to me!

      • I know I thought it was a little strange myself but I really looked at this film in awe just about the whole time even though sometimes I didn’t quite know what this film was trying to do or even say. Sorry guys but thanks!

  4. Great review! I’m glad that you actually took the time to look at the story, as so many just comment on the pretty pictures. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but if you’re going to see it you should definitely do so on the big screen.

  5. It takes a strange type of Malick admiration to even slightly understand what in the hell he’s talking about. I found the film incredibly confusing and definitely undeserving of any Oscar nominations, let alone Best Picture. It’s a sad day when that beats out an adventure like “Tintin” (“Tintin” had Hollywood written all over it, it’s LITERALLY why we go to the movies!).

    • Tintin is a good and rather fun flick but with this one, if you can get past the whole “meaning” side of it, you can really get into this flick as I did. Thanks Logan!

  6. From every review I’ve read, it only seems to further confirm my initial feelings about it when I first caught wind of it. It just sounds like one of those movies that seem really similar to a Korean drama/Korean movie concept that gets lost on most mainstream audiences because it’s too abstract. I could be wrong, but that’s how it sounds, even from reading your review.

    I’ve definitely been meaning to watch it; I just didn’t have the time before. I have a little more time now, so I’ll probably take a look-see at it soon.

  7. Great review. I think the God elements were there because Malick was trying to tell the film from the perspective of God, and I agree that the film could have been better served if the film started with the creation of the cosmos sequence.

  8. It is a good movie, with amazing cinematography, that I should definitely see again soon; I am sure I missinterpreted some parts- sometimes it’s better to see it twice to properly understand its meaning! Great review!

  9. I agree with you on the visuals. I would have preferred if he kept the story in the past and remove all the Sean Penn scenes as well as the history of the universe. I think this would have focused the story and made it more accessible. If you get a chance take a look what I said about it.

  10. didn’t like it. my least fave of last year. esp after hoping for it to be more.

    appreciate your review though. loved your last line (“minus Sean Penn”) haha.

    everyone either loved or loathed this one it seems. count me on the other team when it comes to Tree of Life.

  11. I had to find this one because this is the movie that made me want to start reviewing movies. I agree that the creation of the universe is incredible and those visuals are intense! But then the story pales in comparison to that. I get that we’re supposed to feel small and miniscule and that reflections from the universe appear on smaller scales in everyday life, but good god, did we need 240 surreal minutes for that?!
    Great review, Dan!

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